Most days at work, everything goes well. Your employer probably has a sign posted in your break room touting the length of time since the last workplace accident. No one wants to have to reset it to zero, but workplace accidents do happen.
In 2021, U.S. employers reported 2.6 million on-the-job illnesses and injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employees quickly healed from most of these injuries, but 5,190 individuals died in fatal workplace accidents in 2021. How do you handle it if you become injured or ill on the job? Read on to learn the ins and outs of workplace injury law and the facts about workplace accidents.
Which Workplaces Experience Frequent Worker Injuries
California, Texas, and New York workers experience the greatest number of non-fatal injuries in the U.S. Nationally, the following industries experience the highest injury rates:
- Education and health services
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting
- Transportation and warehousing
- Protective services
- Transportation and freight workers
- Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance
- Installation, maintenance, and repair services
- Healthcare support service workers
- Farming, fishing, and forestry
- Production, such as plastic manufacturers.
Although they did not make the overall list, service workers, such as wait staff, incur many injuries, including sprains and strains. Protective service workers incur the greatest number of broken bones and fractures.
Types of Workplace Injuries
The workplace injury doesn’t apply only to broken bones or sprains. It covers the entire range of injuries from paper cuts to fatal falls. Every industry has its most common injuries. Some industries, like construction, experience so many annual injuries that it created a genre of business literature on it.
The construction literature typically opens with the fatal four – the four types of accidents that most frequently kill construction workers. The fatal four consist of:
- Falls from significant heights, such as a rooftop, scaffolding, or ladder
- Hit by heavy object
- Trapped between multiple pieces of heavy equipment, such as a forklift and loading platform.
- Other industries offer less danger, but more common injuries; for most workplace injuries, the worker doesn’t miss enough work to warrant
Office workers frequently report carpal tunnel disorder from poor arm positioning while typing. Teachers most commonly report repetitive stress injuries to their hands from writing frequently and to their legs from standing for long periods. Chefs burn themselves accidentally. One truth about workplace accidents exists – no completely safe job exists.
Workplace Insurance Policies Provide You Medical Care
Because of the commonality of workplace accidents, the U.S. government passed many laws regarding workers’ rights. Each employer must provide health insurance coverage for each employee and workers’ compensation insurance that covers the entire workplace. Combined, these protections provide an injured person with medical care and rehabilitative services.
What To Do If It Happens to You
When an injury happens, report it immediately. Whether you work at a local auto repair shop or you bake cakes for a caterer, call 911 for medical help if a serious injury occurs. For non-serious injuries, call your supervisor and get first aid.
1. Seek Medical Treatment Immediately
Here’s a key thing to remember about workplace accidents. You must seek medical attention and document your injury. The workers’ compensation claim form requires this supporting documentation. If you need to file a lawsuit over the injury, you will also need this documentation.
Regardless of your usual personality, take this visit very seriously. People with a jokester mentality should curb the joke-cracking about hospital water damage or the ER nurse’s snack. Your employer’s lawyer could potentially use such behavior against you. Behave sensibly and seriously without making light of the situation.
2. Photograph Your Wound
As part of the documentation for receiving compensation for your injury, photograph your wound. Have another person take the pictures for you if you injured a body part that you cannot see to photograph or if you injured your eyes. Take updated pictures each week, so you have proof of the speed of your healing.
3. File a Workers’ Compensation Claim
As soon as possible, file a claim with workers’ compensation, so you can begin receiving benefits. Here’s an important thing to remember about workplace accidents – you must file claims to receive any benefits. Nothing happens automatically.
Contact your employer’s human resources department or safety officer to start your claim paperwork. A spouse or other family member can typically file this claim if the employee incurred an egregious injury and cannot do so. The statute of limitations for filing a workers’ comp claim varies by state. According to Nolo, most states set the statute at one or two years from the date of the injury.
Concerning workplace illnesses, the clock of the statute starts the day the employee receives their diagnosis. Illnesses prove murkier ground since you must prove that your medical issue stems from workplace exposure. That’s a thing about workplace accidents that many articles do not mention. When diagnosed with an illness you believe developed due to your workplace, contact an attorney to help you file your workers’ compensation claim.
4. Locate a Workers Compensation Attorney
Just as some lawyers specialize in criminal defense or divorce law, some attorneys specialize in workers comp cases. Typically, these attorneys practice personal injury law with workers comp as a sub-specialty. When you need a lawyer to talk to about workplace accidents, consult a specialist in that area. Don’t leave it to someone inexperienced in the complexities of workers’ compensation law.
5. Continue Medical Treatment and Rehabilitation
Even if you do not want to do what the doctor tells you to do, follow rehabilitative instructions to the letter. Take every medication prescribed to you exactly as directed. So, if your doctor says that you need laser varicose vein removal, you do it. If you balk at a prescribed treatment, you leave the employer or workers comp office an opening to argue that your current health problems stem from your refusal of treatment.
Paying for Medical Treatment
Initially, an injured employee presents their health insurance, which must meet minimum U.S. legal standards. These insurance plans provide for emergency medical care. It also covers some hospitalization costs.
Very serious injuries that result in long hospital stays erode insurance coverage quickly. This results in plan maximums being hit. By this time, the employee or their family member should have filed a workers comp claim, which pays for medical treatment.
Workers compensation ensures that an injured worker receives a partial salary while injured, even if they cannot work. It also covers all medical treatment related to the workplace injury. Your employer pays insurance premiums for your coverage out of each of your paychecks. Look for the pre-tax deduction on your pay stub.
Since your hard work pays for your workers’ compensation coverage, it makes sense to take advantage of the insurance coverage when you need it. The program pays the injured employee 66% of their pre-injury average weekly wage (AWW). That differs from their starting salary or their standard wage and that’s one of the best things about workplace accidents and the law. A worker’s AWW could equal much more than their base salary.
Here’s how it works. To calculate the AWW, the worker’s comp office averages the last 52 weeks of total pay an individual earned. If a really hard worker who does loads of overtime (OT) gets injured, they still get paid part of that OT. AWW also includes any bonuses earned, whether monthly, annual, etc.
Each state caps how much money a worker can receive as workers comp pay each week. For example, California caps a week’s workers comp pay at $1,539.71. You won’t make extra money, but you won’t have to sell your panga boats to pay the bills.
Workers comp insurance ideally covers every medical treatment, but like other health insurance, it may refuse to pay for some treatments. You can re-submit a claim with substantiating information from your doctor or other health professionals. Sometimes, it still gets refused.
Use your medical insurance as much as possible to absorb costs that workers’ comp won’t cover. Otherwise, you may have to sue your employer for injury compensation beyond what workers’ comp provides. This takes time though, and you may need immediate medical treatment.
Contact your local Community Action Agency for referrals to non-profits and teaching hospitals that may provide financial assistance or medical treatment. If you need a prescription that insurance won’t cover, contact the drug company. Many have programs to provide low-income individuals with free or discounted medications.
Other options for healthcare funding include local churches and web platforms like GoFundMe. The latter has resulted in funding long stays in rehabilitation facilities and operations, so try it if other options fail. Ask your attorney about any special funds or organizations for specific workplace illnesses, such as those for asbestos exposure or lung diseases.
What Should You Do While on Work Leave?
One thing about workplace accidents – you can easily become bored laying in a hospital bed or sitting at home recovering. Once you start feeling a little better, you begin to want to do things, but avoid the scissor lift rentals at the local ski resort. If you re-injury yourself, you can complicate your case because your setback would not receive workers’ compensation coverage.
You’re probably not in danger of re-injury if you take the car in for tire alignment, but your employer or their attorney might see you and photograph you. Here’s something to remember about workplace accidents – some employers don’t want to have to pay for them. Your employer may balk if you incurred a serious injury, and you sue for compensation beyond the lost wages and medical expenses that insurance provides.
Consider taking time for psychological healing from the trauma. You might visit a therapist or psychiatrist. A spa day a month for a natural stones massage or a sit-in sauna visit can refresh your mind.
Wait to go on vacation until after you’ve completely healed and return to work. Anything besides focusing on recovery can make it seem like you didn’t get hurt as badly as you claim you did. Leave your employer’s attorney no options to claim that you weren’t as badly hurt as you and your doctors say.
How to Help Your Attorney
The more you know about Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations, especially those relevant to your industry, the better. OSHA requires each employer to provide safety training and safety equipment to every worker. If you know how the equipment in your industry should function and the safety regulations, you can tell your attorney if your boss failed to install an air dryer that would dry compressed air and that resulted in equipment corrosion that led to your accident.
Provide your lawyer with all the background information you can. This proves especially helpful in cases involving workplace illnesses. You help your case if you can provide documentation of toxic exposures, asbestos in the building, etc.
Who Isn’t Covered By Workers’ Compensation Insurance
Independent contractors receive no coverage under the workers’ comp program. Because the company did not hire them as an employee, they do not benefit from workers’ compensation insurance coverage. If you work as an independent contractor, consider this factor when choosing your health insurance coverage.
Although workers’ comp programs vary from state to state, programs across the nation use this same exemption. Each state can exempt an industry or career from coverage, so check with your state’s program to find out if your job receives coverage.
Going Back to Work
Your injury or illness may preclude you from returning to the job you once held. Don’t let that hold you back though. Contact your local Rehabilitative Services office to learn about job re-training. The government provides scholarships for individuals to learn a career skill despite a disability.
Summing It All Up
Hopefully, learning about workplace accidents has helped you understand what’s available to you if you ever get injured on the job. The government provides protection through each state’s workers comp program and the mandated health insurance. You also have the right to sue your employer if they were negligent and that negligence led to your injury. If injured, take advantage of career rehabilitation programs to learn a new trade.