Workers’ Compensation: Where it All Began
Dan Levenson February 11, 2020
Imagine you are at your job. You’ve been going about your normal routine and everything is going just as it should. Then, out of nowhere, a faulty piece of furniture causes you an injury that is going to keep you out of work for an extended period of time. This injury was no fault of yours, so you should not have to miss wages because of it. This is the exact reason workers’ compensation exists. While the basic concept is a simple one, there are numerous facts and details that you’ve probably never thought about at all. Take a few moments out of your day and read about where workers’ compensation started, and why it is so important today.
The idea of employees being compensated for lost wages seems like it would be an aspect of the modern workforce. You may be surprised to hear that it actually dates back centuries ago. Believe it or not, one of the first recorded workers’ compensation systems was put together by pirates. The high seas were a treacherous place and captains would reward their crew with extra gold if they suffered extreme bodily harm. This included the loss of a limb or an eye. If the pirate survived they would get their payment and would usually be given time to heal with lighter duties on the ship. While it may seem like a kindness given to loyal crew members, it was implemented to ensure the crew would face danger head on rather than retreat to avoid injury. With all the destructive and deceitful acts we know about pirates in general, it is amazing to learn about how organized they really were.
Coming to America
Workers were being taken care of for centuries all over the globe before America considered workers’ compensation a necessity. It was not until the early 20th century when serious discussions on the topic took place. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and so were work related injuries. Factory and railway workers were at a much higher risk of bodily harm because of their physically demanding jobs. Combine that with long hours and new, untested technology and you have a recipe for disaster. This was a time when all the advantage went to the employers and the workforce seemed to be easily replaceable. It was not until 1911 when thoughts of real compensation began. That very year, a factory fire that killed 146 workers brought their families to court. The verdict awarded each family only about $75 each. Today that would be just over $2,000. It was at this point that states began to reform their laws. It was a long and difficult process that went on until 1948 with Mississippi became the last state to get on board.
Here and Now
It was not until 1970 that the modern system we know today took effect. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was enacted to make sure employees got the training they needed to fulfill their positions responsibly. It also holds employers accountable for the health and safety of their staff. Since it was enacted, workplace injuries and lawsuits have dropped dramatically and created a better space for management and workers alike. It may have taken a long time, but then every state was finally on the same page.
A concept like workers’ compensation is never as simple as it seems. While the main goal is to make sure people are not left bankrupt after getting injured, it takes a good amount of thought and action to be fair to both sides. Pirates may have gotten the ball rolling, but it was time and knowledge that developed the system we have today. Innovation has always required a certain amount of sacrifice, thankfully, we no longer have to willingly endure the loss of a limb to be fairly compensated. There are so many interesting details in the world of compensation and insurance. Contact us today to learn more.