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Fatal Injuries Statement Raises Questions About Workers Comp

BLS Releases Data on Fatal Work Injuries for 2014shutterstock_574204570

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their annual report covering work-related injuries and fatalities for the previous year. While the overall numbers have not changed since 2013, there are some updates based on a growing economy that raise questions about how well the workers comp system works for families of workers who died in accidents.

Many states have seen a boom in the construction industry, including South Carolina. With more jobs, more people move into cities like Columbia to find work with a reasonable cost of living. This means that more buildings need to be built and renovated, meaning South Carolina is seeing more construction jobs since the Recession began in 2008.

A preliminary review of the statistics shows that 4,679 people died due to work injuries in 2014. This is a small increase of 2% over 2013, and is roughly 3.3 people per 100,000 full-time workers. This might seem like a small number, but the details prove disturbing for workers comp filers. Private goods-producing enterprises saw an increase in worker fatalities of 9%, with mining up 17%, agriculture up 14%, manufacturing up 9%, and construction up 6%. In contrast, government workers saw a decrease of 12% in their work injury fatalities. This could be, in part, because of an increased reliance on unskilled immigrant labor and independent contractors, who do not qualify for workers compensation by definition, and therefore too often get sent to do more dangerous labor, without the benefit of Labor and Industry laws. This also means their families cannot file for compensation to help them with funeral expenses, ongoing bills, and other cost-of-living related problems after a wage-earning member of the family dies.

“Fatal injuries to self-employed workers rose 10 percent in 2014 to 1,047, up from 950 in 2013,” according to the review. This means independent contractors, who may work for themselves, or may work through a contracting agency. Too many companies, from tech companies to slaughter houses, rely on contract employees to save money by avoiding workers comp payments.

“Far too many people are still killed on the job — 13 workers every day taken from their families tragically and unnecessarily. These numbers underscore the urgent need for employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees as the law requires,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in a statement regarding the BLS data for 2014. “Preliminary results tell us 789 Hispanic workers died on the job in 2014, compared with 817 in 2013. While we were gratified by that drop, the number is still unacceptably high, and it is clear that there is still much more hard work to do.”

In addition, transportation accidents accounted for about 40% of the worker fatalities.  In fact, without even taking truck, bus, and other professional drivers into account, car accidents accounted for 57% of worker fatalities in 2014. This could indicate that workers commute longer distances for better jobs, or more people drive for a living.

“Sharing economy” mobile apps like Uber and Lyft may have contributed to this problem, with their reliance on independent contractor drivers to create a taxi service, which both companies have so far managed to avoid being considered a taxi service. However, these drivers have recently filed lawsuits to demand workers compensation in the event of a car accident or personal injury caused by a passenger. Drivers for these companies, along with other “sharing economy” businesses like Handy or TaskRabbit, do not have workers comp coverage because of their 1099 self-employment status.

“In 2014, 797 decedents were identified as contracted workers, 6 percent higher than the 749 fatally-injured contracted workers reported in 2013,” the BLS statistics point out. “Workers who were contracted at the time of their fatal injury accounted for 17 percent of all fatal work injury cases in 2014.”




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