Thursday, April 28, 2005

Injured Workers: "Tossed Onto The Junk Heap"

This is from an article from Dr. Michael Lax, Medical Director of the Central NY Occupational Health Clinical Center about the injured workers he sees who have gotten injured or become ill on the job:
One of the most striking things I have noted is how badly workers are treated from the time they are first injured or sick. Time after time, I see workers who have been injured treated like worn-out pieces of machinery, tossed onto the junk heap without a thought as to what they have contributed to the workplace or what they are still capable of contributing.

When they try and access workers' compensation benefits, they are fought every step of the way by the insurance carrier, delaying needed medical care and needlessly prolonging the injury or illness. They find that many physicians refuse to take workers' compensation or see patients with work-related maladies. Finally, when they look for other work, they face the discrimination of employers who don't want to hire someone with limitations, especially if those limitations are the result of a work-related health problem.

And throughout this often long process, the injured worker is forced to confront the accusation, sometimes subtly stated, sometimes blatantly expressed, that s/he is a faker, just trying to milk the system for some easy money.

As might be imagined, the injured worker who finds him or herself facing this situation is often devastated. It is no wonder that serious depression, anger, anxiety and frustration so often amplify the distress of the injury or illness and the difficulties of accessing medical care and benefits.


Fixing the system so that injured workers are treated with the dignity and support they deserve, and so that workplace injuries and illnesses are prevented, will require changing this basic problem. We should support an agenda for specific changes in workers' compensation, more vigorous preventive efforts and universal health coverage. But more fundamentally, worship of the bottom line needs to be replaced with the simple justice of requiring employers to take full financial responsibility for workers injured in their workplaces. If employers paid what they owe, efforts to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses would increase dramatically and the toll of these calamities on workers' lives would be diminished. This would be something to celebrate on future Workers Memorial Days.