Workplace injuries are supposed to be reported promptly. Prompt reporting enables injured workers to get the medical attention they need and allows the workers' compensation to function. It also puts employers on notice of hazards to be corrected so that other workers do not suffer similar injuries.
But what happens in practice in specific industries, such as construction? In a recent study, researchers conducted a survey of over 1,000 carpenter apprentices to examine incentives and disincentives to report injuries. The study was a collaborative effort among researchers from Duke University Medical Center and two different trade associations for carpenters.
The researchers found a significant degree of problems with employers wrongly disciplining workers for reporting injuries. Specifically, the study found that reporting of injuries was 50 percent less when workers face discipline from their employers regarding their injuries.
The problem of employees being afraid to report injuries due to possible reprisals is widespread, the survey indicated. And this fear has a chilling effect on reporting. The evidence shows that nearly 1 in 3 of the carpenters surveyed said injuries were either never reported or reported only rarely.
One of the lead researchers, Hester J. Lipscomb of Duke, said that underreporting of injuries, or the potential of it, is a huge issue for the construction industry. There is reason to believe the problem goes well beyond union carpenters to involve the industry as a whole.
What sort of tactics do employers use to discourage reporting of injuries? The threat of possible discipline is one, as is termination. There are also often subtle pressures in particular workplaces not to report injuries.
Such pressures do not change the fact that injured workers - in construction and other industries - have rights under the law.
Source: "Union Carpenters: "You're Pretty Much Screwed if You Get Hurt At Work," EHS Today, Sandy Smith and Laura Walter, 12-7-12
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