Consequences of Recent Changes in Ohio Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ Comp law in Ohio has changed

The Ohio workers’ compensation program, which provides benefits to workers injured on the job, has undergone several changes in recent years. Among these are declines in a worker’s ability to file suit against an employer if the employer was wholly or partly at fault for causing the worker’s accident or illness. Other changes in the relevant Ohio laws also benefit employers, especially when it comes to premium rebates and reductions in the cost of workers’ compensation insurance premiums going forward.

Changes in the program

The change that limits a worker’s ability to sue an employer primarily occurred in 2012, when an Ohio Supreme Court ruling held that an injured worker must prove that the employer deliberately caused the injury with the intent to injure or with the knowledge that the injury was very likely to happen. Another situation in which an employee still might be able to file a lawsuit against an employer is when the worker can prove that the employer deliberately removed protective guards or other safety equipment or misrepresented the dangers of toxic materials or hazards. Because it is understandably difficult to prove this level of corporate misbehavior, it is no wonder that the number of work-related deaths covered by Ohio workers’ compensation has declined in recent years.

Another change in the program is the ongoing effort to streamline and standardize operations that has resulted in efficiencies that may have affected workers seeking workers’ comp benefits. For example, in 2013, the system paid out $1,781,831,400 for claims filed by injured workers. In 2014, the system paid out significantly less: $1,723, 658,964, according to the 2014 annual report from the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. This occurred even though the number of employees at the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation grew. Moreover, the BWC fund is the largest in the nation, undermining politicians’ claims of imminent disaster.

Annual report tells some of the story

Despite these changes, the Ohio workers’ compensation program continues to pay out benefits to injured workers and the families of those who have died. The number of work-related fatalities is an item of interest in the most recent report. Although the overall number of Ohio workplace deaths has declined slightly over the past few years, reflecting a national trend, certain types of work-related fatalities have increased in Ohio. These include:

  • Transportation-related deaths: four more in 2013 than in 2012
  • Deaths resulting from falls: three more than in 2012
  • Electrocutions: two more than in 2012

Transportation-related deaths accounted for 36 percent of all workplace fatalities in 2013 through July 2014. While they did not increase, occupational diseases accounted for the second greatest number of workplace fatalities in the same period – 18 percent. Occupational diseases include carpal tunnel syndrome in jobs that demand repetitive hand motions and respiratory disease resulting from breathing fumes, gases and particles associated with a work process or environment.

Local newspaper takes on worker safety

A Feb. 1, 2015, story in the Dayton Daily News focused on the rate of workplace fatalities in Ohio, noting that an estimated 17 Ohio workers had died since October 2011, the beginning of the federal fiscal year. Experts interviewed for the story point to several factors in the lack of significant progress in reducing work fatalities:

  • The decline of unions and union membership
  • The replacement of retiring baby boomers with younger, less experienced workers
  • A decline in the willingness of employers to invest in safety and training for employees
  • Reductions in funding for state and federal government oversight agencies that monitor worker safety

One would think that companies would have a vested interest in providing a safe workplace for their employees because businesses with higher injury and fatality rates still pay higher workers’ compensation insurance premiums, despite recent efforts to reduce employer costs. Some Ohio companies in the construction industry are trying to address safety issues related to a younger work force with apprenticeship programs that aim to reduce worker accidents. However, others continue to cut corners with safety, hoping that no one will be injured or killed while working at their businesses.

Changes in the past few years have made it more difficult for workers to protect themselves following an injury. This makes it critical for injured employees to have experienced legal advice to help navigate the workers’ compensation system and obtain the benefits they need. A workers’ compensation lawyer can help.