Monday is Labor Day. Most of us will enjoy the extra day off, but Labor Day weekend is also a time to reflect on the evolution of workplace safety protections in this country, including the introduction of workers’ compensation benefits when an employee gets hurt on the job.
Ohio’s modern workers’ compensation system is relatively recent, dating back to 1911. Before that, a person injured in the course of his or her work duties could only sue his or her employer for compensation. Workers who were able to sue failed around 80 percent of the time, a journal article from the University of Akron explains. Employers had many defenses at their disposal, including contributory negligence, assumption of the risk and the fellow servant rule. These defenses hold the injured worker responsible for his or her own injuries, either totally or in part.
Then, in 1910, the General Assembly passed a bill reforming these affirmative defenses and formed a commission to study whether a workers’ compensation system would be right for Ohio. That commission reported back to lawmakers that workers at dangerous jobs could expect little, if any, compensation to their families if they were killed. Even when the worker survives, he or she is likely to become impoverished and forced onto public assistance, because obtaining compensation from the employer was so difficult and unlikely.
The Assembly passed the state’s first workers’ comp law in response. That led to a constitutional amendment in 1912 that created a system, compulsory for employers and workers, in which injured workers would be compensated through a fund. Today, the Bureau of Workers’ compensation administers this fund.
In 2015, workplace conditions are often far from perfect, but they are generally much better than they were more than a century ago. Still, people can still get hurt or sick on the job, which is when they need to turn to workers’ compensation.