I just read an article about some workers injured in Texas when there was an explosion at a fertilizer plant (www.CNN.com). Sadly several workers lost their lives in the blast. My heart goes out to the families affected by this tragedy; you will be in our prayers.
I have to point out that while workers’ compensation is intended to help injured workers get wages for time missed from work and get the treatment they need in order to heal, workers’ compensation as a system does nothing to prevent workers from being injured in the workplace. In fact, I have seen in other states (Ohio, for example) where if an employer is not following safety regulations, the employer can be fined by their Commission and the injured worker is entitled to some additional recovery (VSSR). Because Virginia is extremely pro employer, nothing like this exists in our workers’ compensation system.
OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) is the only body in Virginia governing the policies and rules surrounding safety in the workplace.
I did some research on OSHA’s website (www.osha.gov) and found that “The maximum penalty OSHA can assess, regardless of the circumstances, is $7,000 for each serious violation and $70,000 for a repeated or willful violation.” I was so sad after reading this; yes employers should be held responsible, but a $70,000.00 fine for repeat offenders? I find this to be grossly under-estimated for a company that has already demonstrated they have no regard for the safety rules or the workers affected by these injuries. What upsets me more is that none of these monies ever reach the injured workers who have had their lives turned upside down as a result of an employer’s failure to follow safety rules.
I have always heard that “the best offense is a good defense” and this statement is as true here as it is on the football field. If you work in a field where you are exposed to harmful chemicals or dangerous materials, wear proper protective gear, even if your employer doesn’t require it. Read up on the OSHA rules and regulations and know what (if any) safety rules apply to you and your employer. If there are safety violations putting you or other workers at risk, make an anonymous report to OSHA and inform them of the situation. Know what your employers’ rules and requirements are if an injury does take place (Who the injury should be reported to. Where you should go for medical care? Who is the workers’ comp. insurance carrier?).
The sad truth is that even if you do everything right, not all injuries can be prevented but I think Employers could be held to a higher standard when it comes to protecting their employees.
For more information on Virginia Workers Compensation, order my book, “The Ultimate Guide to Workers’ Compensation in Virginia” by clicking this link, or call our office today (804) 755-7755.
Michele Lewane, Esq.