Black History Month for Workers

February is Black History Month in North Carolina. Not only is this month a time to celebrate the many achievements of African Americans in North Carolina, but it is also a time to address the problems they still face, especially the ongoing risk of injury in the workplace.

Increased Risk of Injury

According to a comprehensive 2017 study conducted at USC and Boston University, African-Americans and Latino immigrants are more likely to work in jobs with a greater risk of injury and, as a result, are much more likely to suffer from work-related disabilities. Another study by the National Institutes for Health reports significantly elevated workplace injury rates in those groups, even after accounting for education level. This report found that black workers had the highest prevalence of work-related disability, at 2.0% compared to 1.7% for foreign-born Hispanics, native-born Hispanics and Asians, 1.6% for whites and 1.1% for other races. The studies call for better training and education, improved safety standards, and better enforcement of workplace safety regulations.

Occupational Racism

Why do workplace injuries disproportionately affect black and Hispanic workers? The answer is complicated, but at the core of both studies is the fact that most high-risk jobs, such as those in roofing and construction, are filled by black and Hispanic workers. Many workers in those fields are under-educated and, perhaps, do not understand their legal rights under current workers’ compensation laws. Given these statistics, it is not surprising that one focus of the civil rights movement was workplace equality. Civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Malcolm X all called for efforts to achieve equality in the workplace. What better way to achieve equality than to ensure safety and justice for all workers?

The History

In 1929, well before the civil rights movement, North Carolina adopted its Workers’ Compensation Act, under which employees were guaranteed compensation for accidental injuries arising out of, and in the course of, employment, without having to prove negligence. The workers’ compensation system also was meant to help injured workers avoid time-consuming litigation. In many ways, it was successful. However, many workers, especially low-income ones performing manual labor, still suffered serious injuries and even death due to dangerous work conditions. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 paved the way for major changes in workplace safety and caused many workplaces, including those predominately employing minority workers, to protect workers from obvious dangers and hazards.

Moving Forward

During Black History month, let’s consider why all these laws have not ended the disparity. Our opinion? Workers’ rights laws are wonderful, but only if they are understood, interpreted, and applied skillfully. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.” In North Carolina, the law and its procedure are far from simple. Even though the North Carolina Industrial Commission and lawyer groups publish guides for workers, the law remains difficult to understand.

Workers’ compensation attorneys such as those at Ricci Law Firm, P.A. represent injured workers every day and help them navigate and simplify complex laws. They also provide clients with legal updates as appellate courts interpret those laws. If you were injured at work and are seeking justice, arm yourself with knowledge and contact a Greenville workers’ compensation attorney at our office today.

We can be reached at (252) 777-2222, or you can fill out an online case evaluation form for a quick replay.