We know millions of Americans rely on the healthcare system for preventive care, prescriptions, lab tests, specialty care, and emergency care. We’re always asking how we can improve the quality of care and cut costs at the same time. The big question nobody seems to be asking is, “why?” Why are so many people experiencing injury and death at work, when clearly our ancestors didn’t seem to have this much trouble?
Our jobs are more dangerous than ever
When farming and blacksmithing were the most commonly held occupations, accidents happened but not nearly as often as they do today. In 2015, about 621,000 workers sustained a serious injury on the job, and that only includes people who reported their injuries. 200,000 of these injuries required taking 3-7 days off. The injuries occurred while lifting or carrying objects, slipping, tripping, and being hit by a moving object.
Safety isn’t being taken seriously
As businesses grow, their focus tends to move away from true safety and toward profit. The drive to cut costs reduces safety training to a piece of paper and eliminates having properly trained supervisors on duty. Today, a supervisor doesn’t always need to have experience or knowledge. They’re often handed a packet of information on their first day and once they acknowledge they’ve read it, their safety training is complete. Then, they’re loaded down with so much work they don’t have time to enforce or improve safety standards. This hands-off approach to safety is no doubt contributing to, and causing, major workplace injuries and deaths.
Workplace injuries and deaths are a huge problem
You may not realize how extensive the problem is until you read the statistics from experts who deal with injury cases every day. As one law firm points out, “there were nearly 2.9 million workplace injuries and nearly 200,000 occupational injuries reported in a single recent year, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 4,600 American workers were killed.” That’s not a small number, and it doesn’t appear to be decreasing. Despite what numbers get reported in the media, lawyers and doctors tell a different story.
Data is about to become convoluted
If you see workplace injury statistics drop in the next few years, don’t be so quick to believe it. President Trump just signed legislation that will completely skew workplace injury statistics. Under the Obama administration, certain employers in high-hazard industries were required to keep accurate records of all workplace injuries and illnesses for five years. Trump just shortened this to 6 months. The reason OSHA set this five-year rule is so they can identify recurring problems and allocate proper resources to address and remedy the situation. Five years gives a broad perspective of what’s really going on. Six months doesn’t. If you think OSHA can override this by creating another rule, think again. Trump’s rule “trumps” any future rule OSHA might introduce. This new legislature is an invitation for shady companies to cover up ongoing workplace hazards. If you think the skewing of these statistics doesn’t affect you, think again. Important decisions about allocating healthcare resources are made based on statistics. If statistics show workplace injuries aren’t much of a problem, it might allow employers to reduce certain healthcare benefits, and even workman’s compensation. Soon, the data reported by healthcare workers is going to be more accurate than the data reported by factories and other corporations with high rates of workplace injuries and deaths. When a company is allowed to destroy records of workplace injuries and deaths after 6 months, they’ll legally be able to skew the statistical calculations in their favor. Instead of being required to factor in 5 years’ worth of injuries, they’ll be able to provide a more favorable view to the public from the last 6 months. OSHA won’t know if the same injuries occur consistently. Neither will potential employees who think they’re walking onto a safe job site.
What the healthcare system can do
The general public may not understand the source of the data is what’s changed, not the actual number of injuries and deaths. It’s up to the healthcare system to keep track of all workplace injuries and deaths accurately in order to produce an independent report of these statistics. If the law can’t be changed, perhaps in the future OSHA will be able to use healthcare data rather than data supplied by the employer.