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More injuries occur in Boston workplaces than reported

On behalf of Zachary B. Lang at Barry D. Lang, M.D., & Associates

Many workplace injuries occur in the Boston area that go unreported, to the detriment of the worker.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks workplace injuries nationwide every year. Its annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses tracks injury by employer, employee, and case characteristics based on a sample of 230,000 workplaces. Perhaps most surprising is the breadth and scope of injuries that occur in the workplace. Injuries to workers happen in every industry and to every age group, although of course some professions carry greater risk than others.

The most dangerous professions in America are unsurprising. Nationally, fishermen, airline pilots, construction workers, agricultural workers and drivers in the transportation industry are statistically most likely to be involved in a fatal injury. According to the BLS, 15 workers were killed fatally in the Boston metro area in 2012, the most recent year data is available. National trends hold true in Boston, with the majority of deaths coming from the transportation, fishing and public administration, including police officers.

Non-fatal work illnesses and injuries occurred much more frequently. In Massachusetts, at least 112 workers out of every 10,000 annually require time off for a workplace injury. It is likely more workers become injured than is reported in BLS data, however. According to a 2013 survey, one in 10 workers are injured on the job every year but do not report the injury for fear of retaliation. Injured workers report a fear of termination, harassment or being passed up for a promotion as reasons to not report a work injury.

It is against both federal and state law for an employer to retaliate against a worker for reporting an injury suffered at work. In fact, employers have an obligation to workers to actively protect them from work injury by providing a safe work environment and proper training.

The majority of unreported work injuries involve slip-and-fall injuries, repetitive motion injuries and musculoskeletal injuries like back sprains. Often these injuries occur over time or do not appear as serious as they actually are when they first appear. Workers’ compensation does provide help with long-term and repetitive motion injuries, however. Even a preexisting injury made worse by work may be covered.

Temporary workers are also more vulnerable than most to workplace injuries. That is because temp workers often receive less training than regular employees.

An example of this occurred recently in a shellfish factory in Boston. A temp worker at Sea Watch International was killed on the job when he became entangled in a shucking machine. In June the Occupational Health and Safety Administration cited the company for 11 violations and fined them and the temp agency involved $44,000. However, workplace safety advocates described this punishment as a “slap on the wrist.”

Workers’ compensation

Massachusetts law allows injured workers, often including temporary workers, the right to workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance system that provides help to workers and their families without having to resort to a lawsuit against the employer.

Injured Massachusetts workers should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to discuss bringing their claim forward. Because workers’ compensation is time-sensitive and deadline-driven, injured workers should not delay in reporting their injuries and speaking with a workers’ compensation attorney.

Keywords: Workers’ compensation, work injury, termination