Nearly 63,000 workplace accidents were reported in South Carolina during the 2014-2015 fiscal year, and more than $875 million was paid out in workers’ compensation claims. That might seem like a lot, but the true number of workplace injuries is likely double that number. Research indicates that workplace injuries and illnesses are staggeringly underreported for one reason or another.
Employees often fear reprisal, or they believe that being injured is a natural part of their profession. Other times, employees perceive their injuries to be minor, or safety incentive programs indirectly discourage them from reporting injuries.
Most employees in the state of South Carolina are covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act. If you were injured on the job, you may be entitled to compensation for lost wages while you are temporarily disabled, payments for permanent disability and disfigurement, and medical care.
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If you are afraid that your employer will retaliate if you file a workers’ compensation claim, bear in mind that Section 41-1-80 of the South Carolina Code of Laws makes it illegal for your employer to demote or discharge you for filing a claim. If this happens, you can sue your employer for wrongful termination, and damages may include attorneys’ fees, lost wages and benefits, emotional distress, and other damages.
Let’s examine four common reasons why workplace illnesses and injuries go unreported:
- Fear of Increasing Workers’ Compensation Costs
A report in The New York Times referenced a study conducted by the Government Accountability Office(G.A.O.) that investigated the accuracy of workplace injury data published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. According to the study, one primary reason why employers underreport workplace incidents is because they do not want to increase their workers’ compensation costs. Another reason is to avoid hurting their chances of winning contracts.
- Fear of Reprisal
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The same G.A.O. report suggested that workplace injuries often go unreported because employees are afraid of being disciplined or fired. As previously mentioned, though, an employer in the state of South Carolina cannot lawfully retaliate against an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
- The Worker Perceives the Injury to Be Minor
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In a study published in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, 135 construction workers participated in a survey that asked if they had ever failed to report a workplace injury and, if so, the reason why. Twenty-seven percent of the workers who participated in the survey said they had failed to report an injury. Seventy-two percent of those workers claimed that their failure to report the incident was because the injury appeared to be minor. Other common reasons were:
- The worker accepted that pain was a natural part of the job;
- Home treatments were sufficient to deal with the problem; or
- The worker was not sure if the symptoms were caused by a work-related activity.
- Safety Incentive Programs Indirectly Discourage Workers from Reporting Injuries
According to a study cited by the National Institutes of Health, workplace illnesses and injuries often go unreported due to safety incentive programs that reward employees and supervisors for reducing workplace injury rates. Less than 5 percent of workers who participated in a questionnaire and interview survey had reported a work-related illness or injury over the past year, yet 80 percent had experienced work-related symptoms, 60 percent had persistent work-related problems, and 30 percent had suffered an ailment that caused them to lose time from work or to endure other work restrictions.
Despite all of the above reasons, it is important for the employee to remember that they should immediately report an injury to a supervisor or at the next available time. An injury must be reported in South Carolina within 90 days of the work injury in most situations, but you should not wait that long.