This is a guest post from Heather Johnson. Ms. Johnson is a regular commentator on the subject of criminal justice careers. She welcomes your feedback and potential job inquiries at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.
What do you do when the job that provides a livelihood turns out to be the poison that’s slowly draining your life? What do you do when you’re rendered an invalid in the blink of an eye because your employers turned a blind eye to safety norms? Injuries and illnesses incurred at the workplace or in connection with work are commonplace, but what’s not common is the readiness of employers to pay out compensation.
Occupational hazards like prolonged exposure to toxic substances, repetitive work movements and noise and air pollution give rise to a number of illnesses like cancer, cardiac and obstructive lung diseases, asthma, musculoskeletal disorders, skin diseases, hearing loss and vibration-related diseases. Jobs that are by nature hazardous lead to severe injuries, lifelong disabilities and even loss of life.
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets and regulates safety measures that employers must comply with at the workplace or be subject to heavy fines during routine inspections. In spite of this, establishments have been found to be shirking their responsibilities towards their employees in two ways when it comes to both illnesses and injuries that originate at the workplace.
- Injuries are being downplayed: A recent missive to OSHA from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine lays bare the tactics employers use to downplay the seriousness of injuries sustained at the workplace. Doctors are concerned that their ethics are being compromised when employers force them to “under-treat and mistreat”, according to Dr. Robert McLellan, president of the organization. Most of the doctors belonging to this group work for the employers; their grouse is that most establishments are taking the crooked way out to keep safety regulators from their doors and asking doctors to skip recording injuries that require time off from work or treatment beyond first aid. Those who demur find that their services are not sought anymore. Most companies require their injured employees to see doctors that they recommend. The pressure from safety regulators to improve working conditions and the costs associated with compensating injured workers and losses due to time away from work are the reasons for this unethical behavior from employers.
- Illnesses are difficult to prove as having their origins at the workplace: Cancer and other work-related illnesses manifest only after prolonged periods of exposure to hazards, both known and unknown. By the time the symptoms of the disease start to show, it’s often too late in most cases – cancers become malignant and life-threatening while other illnesses lead to lifelong disabilities that affect the ability of the individual to work effectively. Employers, when faced with cases that demand compensation for mental and physical agony, pain and stress suffered because of occupational hazards, are more intent on saving their skins rather than taking care of the rehabilitation needs of the employees who have been affected. The onus of having to prove that the illness is a direct result of conditions at the workplace rests with the employee, and with the establishment fighting back in order to avoid a bad reputation and millions of dollars in pay outs, it’s more often than not a losing battle.
The best course of action to follow when you are injured or fall ill due to a work-related hazard is to call a lawyer and discus your case at the earliest.