A story in the Seattle Times about injury rates at Amazon fulfillment centers shows how a state workers’ compensation agency and enterprising local reporters can focus attention on workers compensation.
Seattle Times reporter Benjamin Romano reported that injury rates at Amazon fulfillment centers had increased nearly four-fold over 4 years from 4 per 100 to 15 per 100 employees. Romano’s reporting was based on a public report from the State of Washington’s Labor and Industry, L & I, department which administers and regulates workers’ compensation in Washington state. L& I sets workers compensation rates in Washington State. Per the Seattle Times, Amazon warehouses will pay a higher rate for workers’ compensation than meatpacking plants in that state.
Workers’ compensation laws are state laws. Washington state is fairly unique in having a state-run workers’ compensation system. Nebraska allows employers to obtain private workers’ compensation coverage.
So, as Amazon expands in Nebraska, what leverage will the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court have over Amazon?
First of all, for now, First Reports of Injury, are public records. Any interested party can look at those reports. But of course those reports don’t always correlate with an injury and they are based on what an employer reports.
Major employers with high injury rates also like to self-insure. The Nebraska Workers Compensation Court must approve applications to self-insure on an annual basis. Amazon being denied the ability to self-insure or losing the ability to self-insure would be a newsworthy event. However many high-injury employers avoid the scrutiny of self-insurance by insuring with high deductible plans.
But if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it really make a sound? I bring up this old question to discuss the gradual disappearance of local journalism. If news happens, but there are no reporters to cover it does news exist?. Lee Enterprises has made Nebraska a one newspaper state. Lee has nearly halved the number of reporters at Omaha World-Herald in the last two years. Any long time readers of the Lincoln Journal-Star or Omaha World-Herald know from first-hand experience how the news content in those papers has thinned out over the years.
Why does the decline of local media effect workplace safety. In the Obama administration, OSHA began a policy known as “regulation by shaming” or publicizing fines against companies who violated workplace safety rules. A study by an economist at Duke University found one press release by OSHA had the same effect as 210 inspections. But if there isn’t a strong local media to report on and amplify these stories, then the regulation by shaming strategy loses effectiveness.