According to a study published in the International Journal of Industrial Medicine, many construction workers hide their injuries for fear that they will be fired.
The study was performed by researchers from Duke University and carpenters’ councils, including the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters. They interviewed more than 1000 carpenters and asked them about safety and injury reporting practices related to construction accidents. Less than half (46%) said that accidents were reported “all the time” or “most of the time,” while a full 30% said that accidents were “rarely” or “almost never” reported.
Comments made by surveyed carpenters made it very clear why injuries went unreported: workers were afraid they would be fired as a result. One reported, “The term ‘Fired before you hit the ground’ is used too much in our industry.” A second added the economic incentive that drives both employers and employees to avoid injury reporting: “They want it faster and if you are injured, go home and don’t report it. There are a lot of other guys in line to replace you.” Another noted that typically intimidation is used to keep injuries unreported, “Most employers make it difficult to report injuries with subtle hints not outright threats.” One gave insight into the way it was typically done, “With my company, people are afraid to report injuries even when they get hurt because they will lose their jobs. Not immediately, but in like 2 or 3 months when it blows over, you’re fired.”
This is obviously not the case at all work sites, but it is unfortunate to hear this kind of testimony from Chicago area carpenters. All workplaces should be dedicated to the safety of workers, and should give injured workers compensation and time for recovery.
Technically, workers’ compensation and occupational safety regulations protect you from being fired if you report an accident, injury, or safety condition that may result in an accident. If you lose your job under these circumstances, you can not only get reinstated, you can get significant compensation.
Practically, it is often hard to prove that this is the reason why you were laid off. This is another important reason why you should talk to a lawyer before making an accident or injury report for an on-the-job injury. With proper documentation and legal help, it may be possible to expose which work sites have this kind of repressive culture.