Failure To Prioritize Worker Safety Leading Cause of Injury in West Virginia
About 14 people a day are killed while working in the United States, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). And serious workplace injuries occur daily, especially in states like West Virginia, where coal mining, natural gas, and logging are prevalent. However, almost every single workplace accident is avoidable.
Most work-related injuries and illnesses are caused by the failure to prioritize workplace safety. In some cases, it can even lead to the wrongful death of an employee. Whether you are a business owner, manager, or front-line employee, understanding workplace safety issues can help keep you and others safe at work.
OSHA: Is it Doing Enough to Prevent Work Injuries and Fatalities?
When it comes to workplace safety, OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, usually pronounced “oh-sha”) is perhaps the single-most-important organization for monitoring and enforcing safety laws in West Virginia and throughout the United States. Created in 1970 by the Nixon administration, OSHA is responsible for ensuring safe and healthy workplace conditions while also setting enforcement standards, providing training, and educating both employers and employees.
But OSHA has its collective hands full. Compared to most federal offices, agencies, and administrations, OSHA does not have a large budget. In 2020, OSHA is operating on a budget of $581.8 million, according to Safety + Health. Over half a billion dollars sounds like a massive amount, but when you compare that to the budgets of other agencies, you see that it’s small, extremely small in some regards. The Federal Housing Administration, for example, has a budget of $44.1 billion, dwarfing the budget of OSHA.
When you consider the importance of OSHA’s job, this tight budget is alarming. According to their information, in 2018 alone, 5,250 people died on the job. On average, this is more than 14 workplace deaths across the country every single day!
This number is frightening, but it’s also an improvement in the statistics from 1970, the year when OSHA was created. In 1970, there were around 14,000 workers killed on the job. The rate of accidents (fatal and non-fatal) has also declined. OSHA’s numbers state that in 1972 there were 11 serious workplace injuries for every 100 employees, now that number is down to roughly 3.6 per 100 workers.
The challenges remain, but OSHA does its best to maintain safe working environments across the country. To enhance their efforts, they often combine resources with state organizations. Even these efforts, however, may still not be enough.
Investigation Into West Virginia’s Neighbor Displays Areas of Weakness in Appalachian Safety Programs
In Kentucky, for example, a regional reporting organization found that statewide safety programs routinely miss workplace safety violations and regularly fail to properly and thoroughly investigate job-related injuries. These failures leave workers at risk, and an audit by OSHA verified the claims of neglect.
The state of Kentucky has since made changes that will hopefully improve working conditions in their state. Personnel changes and improvements in post-accident investigations could help reduce workplace accidents in the future. However, they will be little comfort to families and friends who have already lost loved ones.
What Can West Virginia Employers Do to Improve Workplace Safety?
Workplace safety is a priority for all employers, but sometimes it’s considered a low priority. It can also be tempting for employers to simply rely on OSHA’s guidance, monitoring, and feedback to provide the safety initiatives needed to keep employees safe. But as we have demonstrated, OSHA simply does not have the resources to be a comprehensive resource for all businesses at all times. A proactive, self-propelled approach is required to keep West Virginia workers safe.
Below are several relatively inexpensive steps employers can take to help keep employees safe. If you’re not an employer or manager, you can follow some of these guidelines and set a good example. Most likely, workers around you will do the same, which will help create a culture of workplace safety one employee at a time.
1. Creating a Culture of Workplace Safety
The most fundamental measure that can be taken by employers is to create a culture of workplace safety. Safety doesn’t just happen, it needs to be ingrained into your company through consistent communication and follow through. This means monthly or even weekly safety meetings, access to safety literature (even if it’s not read, the mere presence can enhance the safety culture), and appointment of safety leaders to establish safety procedures.
2. Workplace Training
Training is an essential part of a safe work environment. Employers should provide comprehensive training on the proper use of equipment, proper procedures at work, and adequate response to emergencies.
3. Maintaining a Clean Workspace
One of the most fundamental aspects of a safe working environment is a clean workspace. Messy, cluttered workspaces inevitably lead to a higher risk for accidents, as employees can trip over boxes or ladders, or they can slip on slick oils or spilled liquids. From cords to disorganized tools, a messy workspace can create significant hazards, but these hazards can be avoided by thoroughly cleaning and picking up a workspace.
4. The Right Tools and Equipment Equals More Efficiency and Less Injury
Providing the right tools, accessories, and apparel is also crucial or safety. The right tools create a far better workplace environment, and you should also make sure the tools and equipment are regularly maintained, cleaned, serviced, and inspected for complete safety.
What to Do if You Were Injured at Work in West Virginia?
If your employer fails to correct the issue, you may need to file a complaint with OSHA. However, if the problem in question presents an immediate danger to you or another employee, you should call OSHA’s emergency line right away.
Does Your Work Injury Warrant a Lawsuit?
If you have been injured at work in West Virginia, civil lawsuits against employers are limited to a narrow range of circumstances. On the other hand, you may have a product liability claim against the manufacturer of a defective piece of equipment or a third party personal injury claim. See here for a list of 6 potential claims you may have if you were injured at work in West Virginia.
Also, under West Virginia’s Deliberate Intent statute, you may have a personal injury claims against your employer above and beyond your workers compensation claim. However, as mentioned above, those claims are limited and and you need to satisfy certain elements to recover compensation from your employer.
West Virginia Deliberate Intent Statute
To recover compensation for a work injury under West Virginia’s Deliberate Intent statute, you will need to prove five elements. The gist of these elements are below. That said, it’s almost always necessary to retain an experienced work injury lawyer, like us at West Law Firm, to recover compensation under this statute.
1. That a specific unsafe working condition existed in the workplace which presented a high degree of risk and a strong probability of serious injury or death;
2. That the employer, prior to the injury, had actual knowledge of the existence of the specific unsafe working condition and of the high degree of risk and the strong probability of serious injury or death presented by the specific unsafe working condition.
3. That the specific unsafe working condition was a violation of a state or federal safety statute, rule or regulation, whether cited or not, or of a commonly accepted and well-known safety standard within the industry or business of the employer.
4. …The person or persons alleged to have actual knowledge under (3) nevertheless intentionally thereafter exposed an employee to the specific unsafe working condition; and
5. That the employee exposed suffered serious compensable injury or compensable death as defined in section one, article four, chapter twenty-three as a direct and proximate result of the specific unsafe working condition.
Get a Free Case Evaluation From an Experienced West Virginia Work Accident Attorney
If you or a loved one was hurt or killed at work in West Virginia, we invite you to call our experienced work injury lawyers for a free consultation. Our workplace accident lawyers are based in Charleston, West Virginia, but we serve workers who have been injured anywhere in the state. We will come to you if it’s more convenient for you.
Our toll-free number is 1-877-943-9378 (WEST), and there’s never a fee unless you win.
Brooks West is a West Virginia personal injury lawyer who helps people who have been injured by negligence or wrongful conduct. He is the President and founder of West Law Firm and has been an attorney since 2005. Brooks is a Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum member and has been awarded the AV Preeminent Rating from Martindale-Hubbell.