Recent studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the number of American workers injured or killed on the job has increased. In fact, the latest report shows that numbers of fatally injured workers is at an eight-year high. A variety of factors are responsible for the rise in workplace injury, including the improved economy and increased activity in the manufacturing sector, but another factor behind the increase is the failure by employers to do all that they can to ensure that workers are safe and secure on the job.
A recent lawsuit brought y the U.S. Department of Labor touches on this last factor. The DoL filed a claim against Lone Star Western Beef, a company that makes beef jerky, after one of the workers was fired for trying to help an injured co-worker. In that case, an employee attempted to call 911 after a co-worker cut off part of his thumb in a workplace accident with a meat-slicing machine.
The incident occurred back in 2014 at a plant located in West Virginia. The food processor says she was working that morning when she heard her co-worker had cut his finger and noticed that he had blood running down his hand and arm. It turns out her co-worker had severed part of his thumb while using a band saw to cut the dried beef. The food processor believed the man had sustained a serious injury and took steps to help. She put the man’s hand under cold water and wrapped a towel around it to apply pressure. Another employee ran to get the owner.
When the owner arrived, the food processor had already called 911, but before the call was connected the boss told her to hang up the phone. The food processor argued that the man needed an ambulance, but the boss disagreed and ordered the woman to get back to work. The boss collected the severed piece of the man’s thumb and had another supervisor drive him to an urgent care clinic.
When the man arrived at the clinic, doctors decided to transfer him by ambulance to a nearby hospital ER. By the time he arrived it was too late and the doctors were unable to reattach the severed portion of his thumb. Later that day, the food processor voiced concerns to inspectors from the U.S. Agriculture Department and, two days after that, was fired.
In addition to the unfair action taken against the employee seeking help, the DoL alleges there were other mistakes made by the owner of the beef jerky company. According to authorities, the company only threw out the meat that the worker was cutting at the time of the accident, but didn’t discard other meat that was located in the area where the worker was bleeding.
It was later discovered that the company has been fined several times before by OSHA for failures related to workplace safety. The DoL says it will pursue the owner of the company for damages related to the latest case to send an important message that employers should do more to look out for workers. Additionally, the DoL wants to be clear that workers should not fear retaliation from their employer simply for taking action to report a serious workplace safety incident. OSHA says it believes that the company violated the anti-discrimination provisions of the OSHA law by firing the worker and intends to make an example out of them for their alleged misdeeds.