Clarion Ledger: Mississippi Worker Injury Rate, Compensation Among Worst in Nation: Report

After 20 years hand-filleting and operating a scale for the Consolidated Catfish Company, Catherine Bacon started experiencing severe pain in her left hand. Nerve damage.

Bacon, who lives in Durant, underwent surgery in 2012. During the two months she took off work to recover, Bacon said she had to make do with a weekly income of about $130 in workers’ compensation.

Bacon, 50, was already making an hourly wage of just $10.05, her weekly check about $250 after two decades with the Mississippi Delta-based catfish processing plant.

Once she returned to work under doctor’s orders of light duty, she said, the plant fired her.

Mississippi has the fourth highest rate of fatal work injuries behind Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. Workers in Mississippi are killed on the job twice as often as the national average, more than six per 100,000 people in 2015.

This statistic is the focus of a report “Dying On the Job in Mississippi” released Thursday from the National Employment Law Project, which partnered with the local workers’ center. The 2017 America’s Health Rankings report released this week also includes Mississippi’s high worker injury rate, just another reason Mississippi’s health ranks worst in the nation.

Mississippi is “completely at the bottom and out of step with every other state in the nation,” said Debbie Berkowitz, the law project’s worker safety expert, formerly with OSHA, and the lead author of the report.

“They have a very high rate of on-the-job deaths, which are tragic and can destroy families and can even destroy communities. They also provide the least cushion for workers who suffer an on-the-job injury to make sure they can survive and not fall into poverty,” Berkowitz said. “And at the same time you have the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal office in Jackson, their staff is way down and they essentially cut inspections by a third in Mississippi over the last year. So it’s a confluence of three alarming trends. I think the state officials really need to take a hard look and figure out, ‘Can we do better and can we protect Mississippi workers and their families?'”

To ensure workers are protected, Berkowitz recommends Mississippi do four things:

  • Increase the maximum amount of time to receive permanent disability from 450 to 520 weeks
  • Add to the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation law language to prohibit retaliation against workers for seeking benefits
  • Participate in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses by collecting nonfatal injury and illness data
  • Fully staff the Jackson OSHA office with at least 11 inspectors

For more information about worker rights in Mississippi, contact the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights at 662-334-1122.

Read the full article in the Clarion Ledger.

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