It is difficult for us today to imagine that our modern laws that protect workers weren’t always in effect. But in the 1700s and 1800s when innovations quickly came into being and the workplace was rapidly changing, safety was often not a big priority.
It generally took mass casualties and tragedies to get laws changed to protect workers and to provide the monetary compensation we all expect today for work-related injuries, disabilities, and deaths.
The Industrial Revolution—a dangerous time for workers
The Industrial Revolution was a time when factories popped up all over the country and people transitioned from agricultural work to working in cities, factories, mines, building projects, and railroads.
The ugly side of the Industrial Revolution is that many children were forced into labor in terrible conditions. And even adults were frequently injured when working with unsafe machinery or in extremely dangerous working conditions. Fatalities were quite high in the workplace in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Back then, employees didn’t have a lot of protection. They could take their employer to court to try to get some type of compensation if they were injured, but the courts generally favored employers.
The tide began to shift
America did not compensate workers for work-related injuries until after Upton Sinclair’s novel, “The Jungle,” which caused public outrage when people realized the terrible conditions in Chicago’s slaughterhouses.
Another big turning point was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 workers in 1911. Most of the deaths were preventable and were caused by locked doors and faulty safety equipment. The tragedy shed light on the terrible working conditions at the time.
New laws and agencies were created to protect workers in the 1900s
States began passing workers’ compensation laws in 1911 with the last state finally adding its laws in 1948. Employers had to provide medical benefits for workers who were injured on the job. They also had to cover lost wages for work-related injuries. In return, workers wouldn’t be able to sue their employers.
Some of the more prominent improvements that impacted workers’ health and safety in the 1900s included:
- The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1928 established child labor laws to protect children’s health and safety. It also established the minimum wage.
- The Social Security Act of 1935 provided retired and disabled citizens financial resources.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established in 1970 to improve working conditions and health and safety standards and has drastically improved safety for American workers.
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) was established by OSHA to assure “every man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources.”
Data from the National Safety Council from 1933 through 1997 indicate that deaths from unintentional work-related injuries declined 90%, from 37 per 100,000 workers to 4 per 100,000.
The corresponding annual number of deaths decreased from 14,500 to 5100; during this same period, the workforce more than tripled, from 39 million to approximately 130 million. CDC
The purpose of workers’ comp
Workers’ compensation exists to give protection and provision for workers who are injured or killed on the job. This way workers don’t have to dip into their own pockets and savings accounts or saddle their health insurance with the bills and medical debt.
It is a strict liability system which means it provides assistance no matter whose fault a workplace accident may be.
The employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company pays for injured workers’ medical bills, disability pay, work-related death benefits, and mileage to and from medical appointments.
Today, most workers don’t have to be afraid that if they get hurt on the job, they won’t be able to pay their bills or provide for their families because workers’ comp provides a safety net.
Workers’ comp is a type of company-paid insurance that most employers are legally required to carry to provide for their employees. Requirements vary by state and some smaller employers may not have to carry workers’ compensation for their employees.
Work-related injury statistics
According to the National Safety Council, in 2018, there were over 4493 work-related deaths in the US and 4.6 million workplace injuries that required medical treatment. The cost for medical care, lost wages, and other expenses was an astronomical $170.8 billion.
Millions of Americans get injured each year at work. It’s important that you understand your rights and the workers’ compensation laws so that you know what you deserve.
The four eligibility requirements for workers’ compensation:
- You must be employed by the company involved.
- Your employer must carry workers’ comp insurance.
- Your injury or illness must be work-related.
- You must report the injury and file your claim before your state’s deadline.
If you are hurt at work, it’s important to notify your employer right away and find out about the policies and procedures you are required to follow.
Limitations of workers’ comp
Workers’ comp is supposed to protect workers and pay for their medical expenses, disability, and other expenses. But often, workers’ comp insurance companies will try to pay as little as possible to injured workers.
Sometimes injured workers, especially those with significant injuries, may need legal representation to ensure they receive all of the compensation they deserve from workers’ comp.
A workers’ compensation attorney is on your side, not the employer’s side. Your lawyer works for you and understands the laws and regulations so they can help you collect the money you deserve so you aren’t taken advantage of in your time of need.
Looking for a workers’ comp attorney near you in the Midlands of SC?
Burriss and Ridgeway can help you with your workers’ comp case. We’d love for you to schedule a free consultation so we can talk with you and find out if we might be able to help you.
Contact us today!
A Brief History of Workers’ Compensation by Insureon
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also keeps official national data, including charts, on workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalitiesp