The rate of workplace accidents is much higher than reported. That’s long been my opinion. I’ve spent over two decades listening to workers talk about their injuries. I frequently hear stories of accidents reported late or not reported at all. And, I hear many stories of workers who reported their accident to the supervisor. Yet, the supervisor failed to forward the report properly.
Why are so many accidents and injuries unreported? Several reasons exist. One of the most common reasons some companies fail to report employee injuries — An effort to avoid injury claims costs. Because of weak reporting rules and the lack of worker protection laws, the companies that choose to ignore proper reporting often calculate it is easier simply to terminate the employee when needed.
My opinion that accidents are underreported is based on experience handling workers’ compensation cases. A recent study in Michigan now provides data to support my position. Michigan State University researchers collected data over a period of several years. While their study is limited to Michigan, the issues are similar in Alabama. What does the data collected in Michigan reveal?
- Crush injuries are underreported by 59.8%.
- Amputation injuries are underreported by 59%.
- Burn injuries are underreported by 69%.
- Fractures are underreported by 54%.
What about low back and neck injuries? Those are common injuries suffered by workers. I suspect the numbers for back and neck injuries are much, much higher. Low back and neck injuries are often not reported. In many cases, the person does not realize the full seriousness of a spinal injury until it is too late to report it. In other cases, the injured person may have suffered pre-accident problems and fears reporting a new injury.
The Michigan researchers reviewed data from several sources, including local hospitals. Even after reviewing a broad set of data, the researchers believe their count of unreported injuries is not complete. In other words, the problem is even worse:
Is the Michigan count complete? Maybe not, said the researchers, because there are still limitations to their system. Sometimes the medical record information was limited.
What does this mean for us? Why is it significant if many workplace injuries go unreported? Here are three big reasons why the issue is important:
- Some Alabama workers are not receiving the medical care needed to rehabilitate their injuries. Injuries and disabilities have a major impact on working families. While Alabama’s workers’ compensation laws are not fair to injured workers, our laws do provide for certain medical care. Injured employees need treatment to return to work and normal activities. The workers who call my office want treatment. They should receive it.
- Some insurance companies are wrongly shifting the substantial cost of disabilities to families and public resources. The cost of disabilities is huge. That cost does not disappear simply because an employer ignores it. Instead, the huge cost is simply shifted from the insurance company (that collected premiums to insure against it) to families and government agencies. We all pay the bill when the responsible insurance company neglects to do so. That’s wrong.
- Some companies are facing a competitive disadvantage from bad employers willing to discard injured workers. Some companies value employees. These companies properly report injuries. Yet, these good companies face a huge competitive disadvantage from the few companies that treat workers as a disposable commodity. If we value honest competition, we should work toward a system that reports accidents and penalizes companies who refuse to do so.
I frequently receive calls from injured workers who have legal issues because their accident was not properly reported. Many times, I can help. Sometimes, I cannot. We need to improve our system for reporting workplace accidents. The issue certainly impacts the individual workers I counsel. The issue impacts disability benefits and medical care to these individual workers. But, it is much broader. If we have full information as to accidents, we can better plan for overall workplace and community safety. That makes the issue important to all of us.