Imagining A World With No Workers' Compensation Lawyers

Survivors express their sorrow after a deadly and preventable mining accident in W. Virginia.

On January 13, the North Carolina Department of Labor announced that 53 people died on the job in North Carolina in 2011. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry was quoted as saying: “the real tragedy is that all of the these fatalities could have been avoided.” I wholeheartedly agree. 53 deaths is 53 too many. When I see news stories about explosions and other tragic events that needlessly harm or kill workers, often spewing toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment harming entire communities, I can’t help but think about how it all could be avoided if companies embraced a culture that puts safety first and simply followed the proper guidelines and procedures. I see companies spend a lot of time and money to fight the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) over fines and penalties but rarely see the same effort being put into protecting their workers in the first place.

Employers, I challenge you to make safety as much of a priority as profits. Stop wasting time and money fighting against worker safety and instead focus your efforts on saving lives.

It may be hard to believe given my chosen profession as a workers’ compensation lawyer but if I had my way, workers’ compensation lawyers like me would be obsolete. We’d go the way of horse-drawn carriages and 8-tracks. We exist because many companies treat worker safety as an afterthought. The workers’ compensation system provides employers with immunity from lawsuits for most on the job injuries — they are required to buy workers’ compensation insurance, so why bother spending more to protect workers if they get no return on that money spent? OSHA’s inspections are few and far between, so unsafe conditions go  unreported for too long.

We all see how big corporations are expected to deliver increasing profits each quarter. Annual reports do not list dead workers, even as footnotes. In the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, attorney Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout that she needs to walk around in another man’s shoes before passing judgment on him. I try to do likewise with employers and have tried this intellectual exercise. I know that if I ran a big plant, I could not live with myself unless I was trying my hardest to make sure my employees had the safest possible environment to work in, and to make sure that my company was obeying the law (fraud link). When I imagine having the deaths or illnesses employees on my conscience, those proverbial “shoes” get so heavy that it is impossible for me to empathize with many company owners and leaders.

Employers, I challenge you to make safety as much of a priority as profits. Stop wasting time and money fighting against worker safety and instead focus your efforts on saving lives.

Workers, if your workplace has an unsafe working condition, or if you are being ordered to act in a way that is unsafe or in contradiction of the printed safety warnings on machinery, contact the Department of Labor immediately. It’s a call that could save your life.

Working together, we can eliminate workplace injuries and send me into early retirement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>