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Construction study: workers often hide injuries to avoid layoffs

Officially, most construction companies in Philadelphia say they care about the safety of their workers. Workers' compensation is available for people who become injured on the job, and workers are encouraged to report their injuries. But in reality, are contractors as concerned with compensating their employees when they get hurt as they are with maintaining the appearance of an injury-free record?

A recently published survey of union carpenter apprentices suggests that many general contractors subtly pressure their workers to keep quiet when they get hurt in falls or other construction-related accidents, even while having an official policy of encouraging reporting. More than 30 percent said that injuries were "almost never or rarely reported" due to these tactics.

Many of those surveyed reported that workers who missed time due to injury often found they were replaced on the project or not hired for the next job once they recovered. One worker said, "If you get hurt you're looking for a new job." Another wrote that the saying, "Fired before you hit the ground" is all too common. If a worker is not hired for a job a few months after receiving workers' compensation, it can be difficult to tell if that is due to retaliation.

One of the researchers behind the survey noted that she and her colleagues focused on union carpenters, who have the benefits of union support. For non-union construction workers, the rate of unreported injuries could be even higher.

None of this is to suggest that injured workers should not pursue the compensation they deserve. The researcher suggests that companies should reward their employees for reporting safety issues to prevent injuries.

Source: EHS Today, "Union Carpenters: 'You're Pretty Much Screwed if You Get Hurt At Work," Sandy Smith and Laura Walter, Dec. 7, 2012

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