America’s workers suffer more workplace injury and illness than employers report, and medical professionals are under pressure from employers to misdiagnose and under-treat work related health conditions, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report confirms what workers and worker advocacy organizations have known for a long time—Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics do not reflect the real risk workers face from workplace hazards.
“The consequences of misdiagnosis, missing medical treatment, and misinformation are real and deadly for America’s working families. Under reporting is not just a technical violation of the law. Resource allocation, from inspections to the targeting of specific hazards, depends on accurate reporting. Injuries and disease that could have been prevented needlessly take a toll in workers’ lives and well being as a result,” according to Eric Frumin, Health and Safety Coordinator for Change to Win.
As the report indicates, the motivation for employer abuse is built into the system. There are few incentives or protections for workers or medical professionals who resist employer intimidation.
For employers, fewer reported injuries often mean fewer OSHA inspections and lower workers compensation costs. For workers, seemingly benign employer sponsored programs to reward work groups with the fewest reported injuries or illnesses are a thinly veiled effort to discourage accurate reporting. And medical professionals report direct pressure from employers to under diagnose or even withhold treatment in order to keep the severity of injuries and illnesses below the reporting threshold.
Most importantly, the report reveals the pervasive level of fear workers have in reporting an injury or illness. More than two-thirds of health professionals observed worker fear in reporting.
“This is an unparalleled abuse of a basic workplace law that is fundamental to the lives and health of America’s working families. Congress should act now on the Protecting America’s Workers Act. The Act would specifically prohibit current under reporting abuses and give OSHA the means to correct the abuses. Workers must also have a voice at work. Too often employers can easily silence workers and suppress their rights. A worker voice means safer workplaces,” said Frumin.
The report was requested by U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Patty Murray (D-WA), and U.S. Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). For a PDF of the report, send an e-mail with the words “GAO/OSHA Injury Report” in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org.