If you asked the average worker today if he or she feels safe at their workplace, the answer is usually “Yes”. Even for those who work in more hazardous jobs, such as construction and mining, we often believe that we are less likely to be injured on-the-job today than in the past. The reality is, however, that despite increasing awareness of workplace hazards and advancements in safety technology, the number of workers injured, sickened or killed annually is staggering. A May 2012 article by Jim Morris for The Center for Public Integrity gave this chilling statistic: in 2009 alone, more Americans were killed on the job than in the entire nine-years of the Iraq war.
When a worker in Illinois is injured on the job, he or she often is eligible to file for workers’ compensation benefits. State law in Illinois requires most employers to provide such coverage for their eligible employees. But as we explored in a recent article, the reality is that sadly some employers’ flout the law. Whether they allow coverage to lapse, never obtained coverage, or simply fail to pay awarded benefits, injured workers are the ones who suffer the most. Such workers, however, may not be without justice or options. As discussed in a previous article, employers in violation of the law may be fined and even jailed for failure to provide coverage. More importantly, such employers make themselves vulnerable to expensive lawsuits. While the Workers’ Compensation Act sheilds employers in most cases from lawsuits by injured workers, noncompliance may negate this protection. As such, employees may be able to seek a far greater amount for their injuries than would otherwise have been paid out by workers’ compensation coverage. Another possible option for workers without coverage, and the subject of this article, is the Illinois’ Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund.
For a worker, a job-related injury often makes them aware of how little they know about their rights. Not until they are hurt do many employees realize that what they’ve assumed about their benefits may not be entirely accurate. It’s often a shock to find that coverage and care for their injuries is hard to achieve, limited in scope, and at times, nonexistent. There are many aspects to the workers’ compensation system with which all employees should familiarize themselves. However, the most essential is this: does your employer carry workers’ compensation insurance? For Illinois workers, the good news is that most employers are required by law to carry some form of workers’ compensation insurance. Very few exemptions exist for employers to not provide their employees with coverage. But the truth remains, not all business owners comply with the law. It’s distressing for an employee who is injured on the job to find out too late that their employer has failed to obtain or maintain their coverage. Fortunately, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission provides guidance and assistance for workers whose employers are in noncompliance.
As the economy continues a frustratingly slow recovery from the “Great Recession,” many businesses and individuals alike still struggle to keep themselves financially afloat. Its toll is reflected in the continued high-rate of unemployment and ongoing layoffs. A significant effect of this downturn has been a rise in bankruptcy filings. With debt outpacing income, individuals and businesses have increasingly turned to filing for bankruptcy to relieve the financial pressure. For instance, in Illinois approximately 41,000 bankruptcy filings were made in 2007. By 2010, that number had doubled to 82,000. With this upsurge comes a growing concern for the many Illinois workers who are receiving or are in the process of filing for workers’ compensation benefits. Whether they personally or their employer is declaring bankruptcy, the question is the same: “How will bankruptcy affect my workers’ compensation benefits?”
Injured workers are often concerned how they will have to prove their injuries are work-related. And the truth is, often employers will attempt to fight workers’ compensation claims by asserting that the injury did not occur in the workplace. A worker who was injured without witnesses present could find their version of the event questioned or doubted. The stress of heavy scrutiny and pressure, combined with the pain and limitations of their injury, can be overwhelming. And as a result, too often a worker will give up on his or her workers’ compensation claim. For such workers, the good news is that a recent court win has shown how effective it can be to fight for your rights.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that Illinois-based All-Feed Processing and Packaging Inc., is facing a number of serious citations for health and safety violations in the workplace. This announcement follows on the heels of a recent deadly explosion at a Kansas grain silo, further highlighting the gravity of safety violations at feed and grain handling sites. Unfortunately, All-Feed, which processes and packages animal food, is no stranger to such citations. OSHA considers the company to be a serious repeat offender, consistently failing to eliminate or reduce safety and health risks to their employees.
A powerful explosion which destroyed a grain elevator at the Bartlett Grain Company in northeast Kansas also claimed six lives. The accident, which occurred on the evening of October 29, killed four Bartlett employees, Chad Roberts, 20, Ryan Federinko, 21, Curtis Field, 21, John Burke, 24, as well as two private grain inspectors, Travis Keil, 34 and Darrek Klahr. Also as a result of the explosion, two others received serious injuries which required their admittance to the University of Kansas Hospital’s burn unit. As officials prepare to investigate the exact cause of the explosion, a long history of injuries and fatalities for workers at grain elevators point to the danger seemingly inherent in the industry.