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Workers' Compensation No Longer Doing Its Job, Says NYCOSH

A report issued last year by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) points to problems in the state's workers compensation system. Based on case studies of seven workers, the report shows that workers injured in workplace accidents or made ill by dangerous conditions continue to experience " frustration, aggravation, delay and humiliation" and to receive "inadequate medical care and compensation."

The interviews with the seven injured workers reveal that the workers' compensation system no longer provides quick access to medical care and wage replacement for workers injured on the job. Rather, the system seems to focus on challenging claims to reduce the amount it pays out in compensation and to limit workers' access to medical care.

Workers' compensation was supposed to encourage employers to protect workers from injury and illness by providing a financial incentive - if fewer workers were injured because an employer instituted better safety provisions, their insurance premiums would go down. However, this is being subverted in the name of cost control and improving the business climate in New York. The incentives go not to employers, but to the insurance companies and self-insurance groups who improve their profit margins when they delay and deny wage replacement and access to doctors and other providers.

The result is that the cost of compensating workers who suffered a workplace accident shifts from insurance companies and employers to taxpayers because injured workers who are stuck in the workers' compensation system awaiting a decision turn to Social Security Disability to get by. Most workers awaiting a determination by workers compensation live at property levels. The report summary concludes by noting that the system is almost back to the conditions that gave rise to it in the first place more than 100 years ago.

We will retell some of the individual workers' stories that form the foundation of the NYCOSH report in future blog posts.