This blog was updated in 2022 for accuracy.
Most Americans spend a substantial portion of their lives at work. Thus, it stands to reason that workplace safety is an issue of enormous concern for workers. It’s hard to deny that early in our history, employers had limited regard for issues of worker safety. Thankfully, both the law and societal opinion have evolved, establishing workplace safety as an important objective.
Notwithstanding these improvements, there are still many instances when employers fail to adequately protect employees, or when third parties act wrongfully and cause harm to employees. Fortunately, the law now protects workers and provides methods by which they can hold wrongdoers accountable.
Statistics on Workplace Injuries
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is a part of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, work-related illnesses and injuries are routinely undercounted. In fact, complicated models are used by the government in an attempt to adequately understand the numbers and types of injuries. For the year 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the following information on work-related injuries:
- 2.7 million non-fatal injuries and illnesses reported in private industry
- 544,600 illnesses – four times the total reported in 2019, largely due to an increase in respiratory illnesses (COVID-19 of course arrived in the U.S. in early 2020.)
- 4,764 fatal injuries across all sectors
Types of Hazards
Given the great diversity of American industrial and service companies, the hazards to which workers are exposed, and the types of injuries workers receive, are numerous and varied. For example, some workers are exposed to chemical, biological, or physical hazards. As we have discussed in the past, many industries still use asbestos, a known carcinogen, which can lead to mesothelioma in workers.
In addition, many workers are exposed to noise, dangerous machines, and dangerous conditions which can cause injury. Burns, poisoning, falls, and physical injuries may occur. Disappointingly, many injuries are later determined to have been preventable.
Legal Responsibility of Employers
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has enacted numerous regulations designed to improve workplace safety and protect workers. Employers are required to comply with these laws and to provide workers with a safe working environment. This often includes requirements to provide adequate training, appropriate equipment, and proper safety gear.
Legal Recourse for the Injured or Ill
In some cases, the injured or ill can recover worker’s compensation benefits. While Oregon law makes recovery of such benefits the exclusive remedy in some circumstances, there are also a number of circumstances under which an injured worker can file a lawsuit and recover damages. Below, we’ll provide a few examples:
- Injury caused by a third party: Assume that an employee works in receiving at a warehouse. A third-party truck driver negligently drives his truck into the worker. The worker could sue the negligent third party.
- Workers compensation: Some injuries, such as those arising from exposure to toxic substances like asbestos, may involve either a worker’s compensation claim, a lawsuit, or both.
- Intentional injuries caused by an employer: For example, if an employer strikes an employee, the employee may sue the employer.
- Contributing cause: In one case, when an employee lost his worker’s compensation case because he could not prove the employer was the “major contributing cause” of his condition, an Oregon appellate court determined that he could sue because the employer was a contributing cause.
Call for a Free Consultation
We count on employers and others to ensure that we have a safe workplace. The law demands that those who do not live up to their legal obligations be held accountable. If you have questions, please contact us for a free consultation. The experienced lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield can assist you with your investigation and help you sort out your legal options.
You can also report a hazard in your own Oregon workplace online.