While Texas might be a land of opportunity for workers looking to make a living for their families, they should be aware of the dangers of working in the state. Texas has the nation’s second-largest economy, and it regularly leads the nation in fatal work accidents. Despite this fact, the state does not require private employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance for their employees.
While this might seem like a minor issue, it can have life-changing consequences for workers. Having workers’ compensation coverage means that an employee will have some financial support that’s needed after a work-related injury and the losses associated with one. Workers’ compensation makes sure a worker receives at least partial pay if they can’t work during recovery and that they have reimbursement for the medical costs associated with their accident.
Without workers’ compensation, workers who live paycheck-to-paycheck might not be able to recover financially from moderate work injuries. Additionally, advocates for workers’ compensation argue that the lack of workers’ compensation requirements in Texas might make workers unsafe.
So, how safe is it to be a worker in Texas?
How Many Workers Die Each Year in Texas?
In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that Texas had the most worker deaths. That year, 545 people lost their lives while working in the state. In 2017, the most recent year available, 534 people died.
These last two years of data are not an anomaly; Texas regularly has the most worker deaths in the nation. In fact, The New York Times found that the state led the nation in fatal work accidents for 7 out of 10 years in a 2014 report. In the years that it didn’t lead the nation, Texas still ranked among the topmost dangerous states for workers.
Texas Workers’ Compensation Law Lags Behind the Nation
Texas does not require private employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. It is the only state in the nation that does not have requirements for minimal workers’ compensation coverage. While over one million workers have private insurance from their employers, over 500,000 do not have insurance and will not receive any occupational benefits after sustaining an injury caused by their job.
While over 80 percent of workers receive coverage from a state-regulated compensation system, many worker advocates claim that this system does not do enough to protect all workers. Many of those who don’t have any type of workers’ compensation safety net are often the ones who are most vulnerable to the setbacks of even minor injuries. For many, minor work injuries can mean not being able to pay rent, buy food, or cover other crucial expenses.
Even if a Texan Has Workers’ Compensation Coverage, Recovery is Not Guaranteed
Even if a Texan has workers’ compensation insurance through their employer, they might not receive compensation after sustaining work-related injuries. According to The New York Times, insurance companies delay or deny 45 percent of Texas work injury claims. As a result, 90 percent of injury claims are settled between workers and employers informally.
If a Texan makes a claim and receives an unfair denial or compensation offer, they have limited options for solutions. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Texas severely restricted the possibility of bad faith claims for workers’ compensation claims. The Court decided that bad faith claims, a term which means accusing an insurance company of unfair behavior, was inconsistent with the state’s workers’ compensation system. It decided that it was the job of state bureaucrats to punish insurance companies, not a worker’s attorney.
Supporters of this decision claimed that it would eliminate frivolous lawsuits against insurance companies. As a result, the insurance market for workers’ compensation would stabilize in the state and reach more workers. Yet, those who disagree with the opinion argue that insurance companies already delay and deny valid claims, making lawsuits against them the only form of accountability workers can get.
Does Texas Have OSHA?
Most states have created agencies that enforce laws for workplace safety. However, Texas has never set up such an agency. Instead, the state relies on the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
While OSHA has made the American workplace significantly safer over the decades, it does not have enough inspectors to enforce regulations in Texas or the rest of the nation. The agency his only about 1,000 inspectors overseeing millions of workplaces throughout the nation. To enforce regulations, OSHA needs help—Texas does not provide it.
For example, some safety experts label Texas as a “free-for-all" state when it comes to work safety. After the West Fertilizer plant exploded in 2013, many wondered how the plant was allowed to store dangerous levels of ammonium nitrate. With 15 people dead from a preventable disaster, much of the public was surprised to find out that the plant hadn’t had a safety inspection since 1985.
“Texas is unique in that it has no workers’ compensation program at all. And that spills over into how various federal agencies deal with Texas.” former head of Washington’s state OSHA commented. “[The state] gets by with less attention across the board than most states, and so it’s not surprising to me that so many agencies that should have been looking at that plant weren’t.”
What Should Workers Do After Sustaining an Injury in Texas?
The best thing a worker can do after suffering from a work-related is to reach out to a work accident attorney. Having a lawyer on your side means that someone is protecting your interests before an insurance company even has a chance to offer a settlement. An attorney from Arnold & Itkin will examine your case and explore every legal option that you have. While Texas does not always favor worker recovery, hiring an attorney will help you level the playing field.
For a free consultation of your case, call Arnold & Itkin today at (888) 493-1629. Our team of work accident lawyers is standing by to help you find out which options are best for you.