John Lesaganich, P.C., Attorney at Law
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Peoria Workers' Compensation Blog

Illinois workplace safety could be improved

In Illinois, workers are hurt and killed while on the job every year. Whether it's in a warehouse, a heavy manufacturing facility or a healthcare setting - or any workplace - safety is crucial for all people who are on the job. Although Illinois workers see some of the lowest workplace fatality rates in the United States, there is still much that can be done to improve overall safety for workers in the state. Those who are injured can rely on workers' compensation for medical and financial assistance.

But ideally, a person should feel and be safe when he or she arrives at work. In the Land of Lincoln, one can feel reasonably certain that one can avoid a fatal workplace accident. Although 171 people died on the job in the state in 2016 - the most recent year for which data has been released - that number translates into a workplace fatality rate of 2.9 deaths for every 100,000 workers. This places Illinois far below the national average of 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers and makes it the 11th safest state when it comes to avoiding death on the job.

Supreme Court rules against workers' compensation insurers

Illinois does not have a workers' compensation fund -- at least not in the sense that it compensates with insurers to offer coverage to employers required to carry workers' compensation insurance. Nationally, about half the states have funds that will pay workers' compensation benefits when an employee is injured on the job. In four jurisdictions, the state is the sole provider of workers' compensation insurance. In the rest of the fund states, the state fund compensates with private insurers, ostensibly keeping premiums reasonable across the board.

Lower premiums benefit both employers, who pay less for workers' compensation coverage, and employees, because a portion of the savings will be passed along in the form of higher wages or greater benefits. But, what happens when a state decides to get out of the business of providing workers' compensation coverage? The United States Supreme Court answered that question recently when it declined to hear an appeal from a group of insurers in a case against the state of New York.

Failed a drug test? You can still get workers’ compensation.

Drug tests are common after injuries at the workplace. If you fail a drug test, the thinking goes, then that was clearly the reason for the injury, which insurance companies in Illinois may use to automatically deny your workers’ compensation claim. However, these cases are still winnable, based on a few factors.

Illinois workplace accidents, fatalities should be preventable

After several years with a workplace fatality rate consistently near the national average, Illinois' rate of work place fatalities has fallen since 2013 from 3.1 deaths per 100,000 workers to 2.9 deaths per 100,000 workers - third lowest in the nation. This puts Illinois well ahead of the national workplace fatality rate of 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. Illinois' rate has not been reflected by the national level - where the on-the-job death rate has remained between 3.5 and 4 fatalities per 100,000 workers since 2007 - since 2010 when the rate spiked to 3.7 and matched the national levels.

Illinois remains below - although quite close to - the national average when it comes to rates of work-related accidents and illness that caused missed work days or job restrictions. Such injuries and illnesses occurred at a rate of 1.5 per 100 workers in the state; while on a national level, 1.6 per 100 workers were injured or became ill on the job and missed work in 2016.

Illinois among the safest states for workers

According to statistics from 2016, which is the latest year for which such data was available, Illinois had the 11th lowest rate of workplace fatalities in the United States. That year 5,190 died while on the job in America. Of the workers killed, 171 were in Illinois. The national rate for workplace fatalities was 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers, accounting for all industries. In contrast, the workplace fatality rate in Illinois was well below the national average at 2.9 deaths per 100,000 workers. Meanwhile, the state's rate of workplace illness or injury - including workers' compensation injuries - was 2.7 per 100 workers.

These figures come from "Death on the Job, The Toll of Neglect" - AFL/CIO's annual compilation of workplace safety, injury and fatality statistics. Released in April of this year, the 2016 numbers marked a significant uptick over the number of on-the-job fatalities in 2015, which saw 4,836 workers killed in the workplace. Connecticut, Rhode Island and California had the lowest workplace fatality rates in the nation, at 1.6, 1.8 and 2.2 per 100,000 workers, respectively.

State debates workers' compensation system reform

The Illinois workers' compensation system may be headed for major reforms, but it is not yet clear how those reforms will ultimately work.

Last month, the Illinois House of Representatives passed a measure that would create a workers' compensation insurance company under state supervision. Proponents of the bill say the state-monitored company would keep costs down, thereby spurring private companies to compete by lowering their rates. Critics say that this level of state involvement is not necessary.

Workers' comp for Illinois workers who get sick on the job

The dangers of working in a health care setting are well-documented. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has pointed out that the health care sector accounts for more on the job injuries than either construction or manufacturing. One explanation for this is that healthcare is one of the economy's fastest growing sectors.

Another reason that health care accounts for so many workers' compensation injuries is the physical nature of many of the jobs -- lifting, carrying, moving patients. Often, workers are injured due to unpreventable variables like uncooperative or combative patients.

Manufacturing’s repetitive injuries

Even though manufacturing is now a highly automated industry, there still are repetitive motions that workers must do day in and day out. Unlike an injury that debilitates immediately, the damage of a repetitive motion injury (RMI) accumulates over time. Here are some of the types of RMIs and their symptoms, along with what to do if you think you may have one of these cumulative injuries.

RMI types

Fulfillment centers hazardous for Illinois workers

Many workplaces can be hazardous. Health care and manufacturing workers are among the most frequent victims of workers' compensation injuries. Another type of workplace that is coming under increased scrutiny by watchdog groups and agencies is the online order fulfillment center -- in particular, those owned by Amazon, the 500-pound gorilla of online retailing. Our state is home to five such facilities.

This year, Amazon landed on the "Dirty Dozen" list that the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) issues annually to mark Workers' Memorial Week. Workers' Memorial Week honors individuals who were injured, became ill or died on the job. The Dirty Dozen list consists of companies whose workers suffered severe injuries from preventable risks. Usually, companies on the list have been cited multiple times by federal and state safety regulators.

We fight for injured workers in Illinois

When one suffers an injury while they are on the job in Illinois, they generally must rely on workers' compensation to cover medical expenses and recuperate wages lost due to the injury. Unfortunately, the workers' comp system is not always all that easy to navigate, nor is the workers' compensation system always looking out for one's best interests.

Remember, when one files a claim for workers' compensation benefits, they are filing an insurance claim. Workers' compensation is insurance that Illinois employers must purchase. The reason workers' comp is required is to ensure that a worker who is injured on the job will receive medical care and will not suffer financially from being injured at work. The benefit to employers is that their liability for workplace injuries is considerably reduced.

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