Occupational injuries in the private section in New York cost the state economy $10.9 billion between 2010 and 2012, according to a new Public Citizen report, “Aim Higher: New York Should Reform its Workers’ Compensation Laws to Reduce Injuries,” released May 6.
By comparison, OSHA’s budget for fiscal year 2012 was $583 million, or $4 per U.S. worker. The threat of an OSHA inspection to force employers to voluntarily protect workers is an idle one, according to Public Citizen. In 2012, there were only 115 OSHA inspectors assigned to inspect 592,148 New York state workplaces (including state and local government workplaces).
The federal agency inspected 5,511 New York workplaces in 2012, just 0.93 percent of the state’s workplaces. At this rate, it would take OSHA approximately 110 years to inspect each workplace in New York state once.
The report recommends that the state require that all employers implement “workplace safety and loss prevention” programs, which currently are required only for a sliver of private employers.
“Safety should not be optional,” said Keith Wrightson, who authored the report and is a worker safety and health advocate for Public Citizen. “The economic and health toll of avoidable workplace injuries is unconscionable, and the state must act now to improve this appalling situation.”
The group suggested New York require all private-sector employers to implement the workplace safety and loss prevention programs. According to Wrightson, other states that have required similar programs for all employers have decreased worker injuries while lowering costs.
From 2010 to 2012 (the most recent data available), the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 463,400 injuries and illnesses among private sector employees in New York. Of these, 245,600 workplace injuries and illnesses were considered serious incidents of worker injury that caused days away from work, job transfer or restriction of duties. In 2012 alone, New York reported 146,300 private industry injury and illness cases, 79,500 of which were considered serious injuries, involving days away from work, job transfer or restriction of duties.
According to the report, service-industry workers suffered the brunt of injuries, accounting for 83 percent of the injuries and illnesses that year. This disproves a common misconception that service sector jobs are less of a concern for worker safety. Overexertion (due to lifting and moving) was the leading event in the state that caused a workplace injury in the service sector. These injuries often strike service sector workers, such as hotel workers lifting mattresses to change sheets.
The report was released in conjunction with a demonstration outside Starwood Capital Group’s Walker Tower, where worker safety advocates and elected officials decried worker injuries on the developer’s projects, including injuries that occurred during the construction of that tower.
Currently, New York law requires only some employers to implement workplace safety and loss prevention plans, sometimes known as injury and illness prevention programs. Covered employers must develop a comprehensive plan to identify and address workplace hazards before they cause injuries or illnesses. Typically, these plans involve employers and workers collaborating on an ongoing basis to achieve optimal safety conditions in the workplace.
Under the existing law, only employers who have particularly high injury rates – as determined by assessed workers compensation premiums that are at least 20 percent higher than average – are required to have such programs. Public Citizen recommends that New York reform its workers compensation regulation to require that all private sector employers have such safety programs. The new report says these programs are needed in part because federal worker safety programs have minimal resources and rules have not kept up with new workplace dangers in a service-oriented economy.