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Are workplaces safer, or are employees scared to report injuries?

The question posed in this blog title is being earnestly debated by advocates on both sides of the argument. On-the-job injuries noted by the federal government have dropped discernibly over the past 10 years, but not everyone in Ohio and elsewhere with a close interest in workplace safety believes that the downward spike is a positive development.

Why wouldn’t it be?

Here’s why, say a number of worker advocates, labor unions and workers’ compensation attorneys: Increasingly, workers who are hurt on the job are simply afraid to speak up.

What they fear, according to a number of accounts, is employer retaliation against them when they do report workplace injuries. Such retaliation can lead to curtailed job opportunities, harassment on the job or outright termination from a position.

Those potential outcomes are a strong deterrent to vocalizing work-related injuries or drawing attention to unsafe work practices, say persons who believe that a drop in job-injury reporting owes as much to workers’ fears as it does to an improved safety environment in American workplaces.

One entity that appears to be a bit dubious regarding salutary proclamations from employers and business groups concerning alleged safety improvements is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Officials from OSHA cite a belief that an unacceptably high number of job-related accidents go unreported, with the agency recently stressing to employers that retaliation for injury reporting violates federal law.

Jordan Barab, a ranking OSHA executive, discredits a view that workplace injuries occur owing to worker carelessness. He says a catalyst is more often “unsafe conditions in the workplace.”

Employer retaliation that seeks to thwart injury reports and workers’ compensation claims is far more than anecdotal. It has been proven in many instances and is a flat violation of federal and state labor laws. Workers with injury-related concerns and questions can obtain answers and strong representation from an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Workplace injuries drop, but claims of employer retaliation rise," James R. Haggerty, July 22, 2013

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