Need for Better Occupational Medicine at Low-Wage Jobs

January 23, 2013 - The U.S. lost nearly $40 billion in productivity and medical care costs in 2010 due to job-related injuries in low-income workers, according to a recent policy brief from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS).

Because low-wage workers are less likely to get paid sick leave, they don’t want to miss shifts in order to recuperate from work injuries or illnesses because their paychecks will shrink. A few missed shifts can cause them to struggle even more to pay rent or buy groceries. Without adequate recuperation time, their health can be further impacted. 

For the study, researchers borrowed data originally compiled for a study published in 2011, which included about 31 million individuals working jobs that paid less than $11 per hour. That’s equivalent to about 22 percent of working Americans. The data showed that approximately 600 low-wage workers succumbed to on-the-job injuries in 2010. In addition, more than 12,500 died from conditions related to work, and even more incurred non-fatal injuries and ongoing health problems.

The researchers state that by improving workplace conditions through occupational medicine and other safety enhancements, the U.S. could put billions of dollars back into the economy and improve quality of life for of low-wage workers.

While the SPHHS study looked at workers who don't receive health benefits, some experts have said a strong healthcare wellness program can reduce absenteeism, disability costs, employee turnover and customer dissatisfaction.

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