Survey: 1 of Every 11 Workers Don’t Report On-The-Job Injury for Fear of Retaliation

EAGAN, Minn.—One of every 11 workers, or 9%, do not report an on-the-job injury for fear of retaliation and harassment by his or her supervisors, a new survey shows.  The proportions rise to one of every six – 15% — of Hispanic workers and one of every seven, or 14%, of workers with kids in the house.

The fear occurs even though federal law bars firms “from discriminating against an employee because the employee reports an injury  or illness,” Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney-editor at Findlaw.com, an Eagan, Minn.-based legal research service, told survey researcher Alex Cook.  The survey talked to 1,000 workers.

Some states also bar employer retaliation against workers who get workers’ comp benefits, Rahlfs said.

Nevertheless, she said, workers are scared, and employers put pressure on them to not report injuries.  “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may cite employers who offer rate-based safety incentive programs – such as those that give bonuses or prizes if no one from a team is injured over a given period of time – if that program  discourages workers from reporting accidents or injuries,” Rahlfs added.

“But if a worker is injured on the job, they should immediately notify a supervisor, and if appropriate, a union safety representative,” Rahlfs stated.

The Findlaw survey is in line with anecdotal reports from workers and data unions compiled over the years about workers being intimidated into not reporting job injuries.  That underreporting is one reason that organized labor says OSHA’s calculation of 3 million job injuries annually is too low.

Indeed, the intimidation is prevalent enough that 3% of workers Cook surveyed reported concealing more than one job injury for fear of retaliation.  The other 6% concealed just one injury, the workers told the survey researchers.

Hispanic-named workers have often told unionists and their allies they fear to report on-the-job injuries because employers would retaliate by summoning immigration inspectors to question and inspect the workers’ papers, even if the workers are legal.

Falls and slips accounted for 49% of the unreported on-the-job injuries, with repetitive motion – ergonomic — injuries accounting for 22%.  Business lobbying, in the first months of the GOP George W. Bush regime, led to congressional repeal of an OSHA rule, more than a decade in the making, to regulate the ergonomic injuries.  The Obama administration has refused to revive that effort, despite labor lobbying for it.

-PAI