Safety protocols and policies in workplaces are there for a reason. Sometimes they may seem unnecessarily limiting or meant to address a safety issue that would be highly unlikely to occur. But employers don’t get to pick and choose which protocols to follow. After all, neglecting basic safety measures can have serious consequences.
An example of this occurred earlier this year at a meatpacking plant in Colorado. A worker had his arm ripped off because two small but critical safety devices were not in use: A guard for the conveyor belt and a plastic device that keeps sleeves from dangling over machinery.
Company blamed for failure to equip and educate employees
According to news reports, the man was reaching for an item that had fallen off the end of the machinery. As he reached, his sleeve became tangled in the sprockets of the conveyor belt, ultimately amputating his arm. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the employer nearly $175,000 related to the accident. The agency alleges, among other things, that the company failed to properly guard the conveyor belt. Additionally, employees were apparently not informed about or instructed to wear plastic devices that prevent sleeves from dangling.
Meat processing and packaging is already a notoriously dangerous job. Failure to follow easy and basic safety guidelines all but ensures a serious accident.
Why assigning fault matters after a workplace accident
Here in Illinois, workers who are injured on the job are supposed to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits regardless of who was at fault, as long as the injury was work-related. In exchange for providing benefits coverage, employers are shielded from personal injury lawsuits filed by their employees. Because of this tradeoff, determining fault isn’t necessary to be eligible for compensation.
Still, there are at least two reasons why assigning fault to employers is important. First, it allows agencies like OSHA to hold them accountable through fines and other imposed penalties, hopefully preventing similar accidents in the future. Second, it is a safeguard against employers or their insurers who may try to deny workers’ compensation claims in bad faith.
Though you cannot sue your employer, the workers’ compensation insurer may deny your benefits claim by alleging that your injury was not work-related or that you missed a deadline for reporting it. If there is a clear record showing that the employer was responsible for the accident, however, the insurance company is much less likely to attempt to try to make such arguments.
How a workers’ compensation attorney can help you
If you’ve been injured on the job, your financial security often relies on being approved for benefits. An experienced attorney can help you file your claim in the most effective manner possible. And if your claim is denied, your attorney can represent you at all necessary levels of appeal.