- As an employee, you may have concerns regarding the unsafe working conditions that exist at your place of work. Today's work environment contains threats to your safety from both obvious and open dangers as well as less noticeable conditions. Invisible airborne substances or the stresses placed upon your body by repetitive tasks can injure you as easily as the open hazards of a construction site. Knowing your rights under the workers' compensation laws provides you with the ability to protect your income and health in the event you become injured by an unsafe condition at work. Choosing an attorney familiar with workers' compensation ensures that you will receive the maximum benefits to which you may be entitled under the law regardless of how your work-related injury came about.
How Workers' Compensation Protects You from Unsafe Working Conditions
- Workers' compensation is a no-fault system and your employer has "strict liability" for all work-related injuries that happen to you out of, and in the course of, your work. That means that you must be paid workers' compensation benefits for injuries at work without regard to anyone's fault, as long you did not intentionally cause the accident or injury. Accordingly, if you are injured at work, the workers' compensation laws require your employer to pay you benefits for your medical costs, physical disability, loss of earning and death.
- Usually, your employer purchases insurance from an insurance company to cover its responsibilities under the workers' compensation laws. The amount your employer must pay for workers' compensation insurance depends upon the number of accident claims that the insurance company pays. This creates an economic incentive to encourage your employer to reduce accidents and increase the safety of employee-working conditions.
- Unfortunately, however, work place hazards continue to exist and employees are injured everyday by unsafe working conditions. Workers' compensation ensures that when safety deficits at work cause you to suffer a serious injury, you will be provided with wage loss and other benefits. A variety of unsafe conditions are accepted as causing work-related injuries under the workers' compensation laws. Accordingly, your employer may be liable to you for workers' compensation benefits because your job requires you to do heavy or unsafe lifting and you have a wear-and-tear injury to your back, neck, knees or other joints. You may have been injured from the cumulative effects of having to perform repetitive tasks such as typing, parts assembly, data entry, or small tool manipulations. Poor ergonomics in the equipment you use or in the space you work in can also cause work-related injuries. Exposure at work to environmental hazards like asbestos, chemicals or even second hand smoke can create injuries for which your employer owes you workers' compensation. Injuries, which happen because of accidents at construction sites or because of unsafe machines, are, of course, also covered.
- An attorney who knows the workers' compensation laws can help you understand the connection between the physical problems you have and the unsafe conditions in your workplace that may have caused them so that you can receive all the workers' compensation benefits you should. A workers' compensation attorney may also be able to assist you in getting the unsafe working conditions changed. If you are injured because of the manner in which you have to do your work, your employer may have to choose between modifying your work environment and/or duties and paying you long-term workers' compensation benefits. Modifications to increase employee safety can include working fewer hours, limiting the weight or times an individual lifts, changing the employee work-station or purchasing ergonomic equipment to allow proper body mechanics. An attorney who makes sure that your post-injury job fits your physical limitations helps create a work place that is safer for all employees, including those that have already suffered work-related injuries.
- In a limited number of cases, depending upon how the injury occurred, you may be entitled to a recovery beyond the basic benefits offered by workers' compensation. If your injury occurred because of an unsafe condition at a worksite not owned or directly controlled by your employer, you may have a third-party claim against the person who created the hazard. A third-party claim is brought against a person or company, other than your employer or co-employee, when that person or company contributes to causing your injury. Third party claims let you recover for losses like pain and suffering or emotional distress that are not paid under the workers' compensation benefit system.
- You may also be able to sue your employer directly if your employer deliberately created a specific unsafe working condition. Usually, employee claims for injuries against their employers are limited to the workers' compensation system. However, you may be able to sue your employer outside of workers' compensation if you were injured by a specific, unsafe condition at work, your employer knew of the condition and, nevertheless, intentionally exposed you to the risk. Again, working with an attorney who understands the workers' compensation law will ensure that you maximize the recovery given the circumstances of your specific situation.
- The demands of employment frequently require employees to work harder, faster and at greater risk to themselves than is desirable. If you become injured because of conditions in the work place, you may be able to turn the workers' compensation laws for relief. Workers' compensation laws provide benefits for those who suffer injuries because of wear and tear or repetitive tasks as well as those who suffer injuries because of major accidents. Under some circumstance, the workers' compensation law also requires employers to change the conditions under which an injured employee works and provide lighter, safer work. An attorney who is experienced in dealing with workers' compensation will know how to use the workers' compensation laws to provide you with relief from unsafe working conditions. By choosing such an attorney to represent you, should you suffer an injury at work, you can be confidant that you will receive the full protection the workers' compensation laws were designed to provide.
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