Hiding Worker Injuries From OSHA

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It’s painful enough to be injured on the job, but it adds insult to injury when your employer tries to keep it secret from safety authorities.

The failure of corporations to report work-related injuries is not a rare occurrence, says the Government Accountability Office—it is routine. In a review of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s policies, GAO investigators found that some two-thirds of job injuries are hidden from the agency, though the law requires full reporting on injuries that require more than first aid.

Why flout the law? Because corporate executives know a record of frequent injuries will increase the company’s worker compensation costs and will hurt its chances of winning government contracts.

Why do they get away with it? Several reasons. Get this—OSHA relies solely on employers to report worker injuries. Inspectors do not interview employees to determine if their bosses are being honest about job hazards and injury rates.

Second, managers pressure clinics, doctors, and others to limit treatment to first aid, thus requiring no report. This cold ploy includes taking the injured person to several medical providers to find one that will certify first aid is enough. More than half of medical providers surveyed by GAO said they’d been pressured by corporate officials to play down injuries. Finally, workers themselves are intimidated, fearing they’ll be punished or fired for getting a reportable injury.

As long as safety officials take a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach, corporate bosses have no incentive besides their own sense of decency to make America’s workplaces safe—and, as the GAO report makes clear, putting our trust in executive decency doesn’t seem to be working out.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work—and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown—visit www.jimhightower.com.