Workplace injuries result in losses to the worker and their families, but also to the economy regarding lost production and the costs of medical care. The nearly 3.0 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2014. What is the cost of debilitating workplace injuries and who pays?
On average, there are 23,000 on-the-job injuries in the United States daily. This amounts to 8.5 million injuries per year and a huge cost to workers, their families, and our economy, approximately $192 billion. Workers deal with more than just injuries. Hundreds of thousands of them develop illnesses on the job, costing $58 billion a year.
Workplace Injuries and Deaths Cost More than Cancer
A recent study estimates the cost associated with occupational illnesses and deaths to be roughly $250 billion a year. This amount exceeds the costs of several other diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The medical costs associated with occupational disease and injury are approximately $67 billion per year. The productivity costs of losing these workers are around $183 billion, including current and future lost earning, lost benefits, and lost household services (work done around the house including cooking and home repairs).
By contrast, it was estimated the total expense of all cancers, including medical costs and lost production, was $219 billion in 2007. As a result, cancer costs an estimated $31 billion less than the combined cost of occupational injury and illness.
Who Pays for Occupational Injuries
Some recent research addressed the issue of who pays for the costs when workers are injured or killed. Workers’ compensation insurance carriers are estimated to cover only 21% of total costs.
Government programs and workers carrying the majority of the medical costs not covered by workers’ compensation insurance. Taxpayers are picking up the tab for costs that should be covered by workers’ compensation insurance, yet somehow, these carriers have managed to shift the costs back to individuals and taxpayers. Public programs pay more than 40% of the $67 billion annual medical costs of injured workers. Shouldn’t those who are actually responsible cover these costs? Rather than the taxpayers who are merely trying to get by.
None of these numbers account for the emotional costs to the workers and their families. Nor do they include the pain and suffering experienced by the injured. There is no way to value some of the truly gruesome workplace injuries that occur, including falling through broken skylights several stories to your death or getting sucked into a slitter machine that lacked the necessary safeguards. Making our workplaces safer should be the priority.