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Worthy of celebration: 99-year history of workers’ safety in Utah

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This story is sponsored by WCF Insurance. Learn more about WCF Insurance.

In 2013, the Utah state legislature passed a resolution that designated the fourth week of June as Utah Workplace Safety Week. This year, during the week of June 20, many employers and other organizations throughout Utah celebrate and encourage workplace safety.

“Working together to make the workplace safe for all is our goal,” said Senator Karen Mayne, who sponsored the resolution. “The cost of an accident, whether financial, emotional or physical, is an injury to all citizens of Utah. Utah Workplace Safety Week is an added push to enhance safety in the workplace.”

The history of workers’ compensation in Utah

Over 100 years ago, the workers’ compensation system was created in the United States as part of what was called “The Grand Bargain” or “The Great Trade-off” between employers and employees. As part of The Grand Bargain, employers agreed to pay medical bills and lost wages, regardless of fault. Employees agreed to give up their right to sue employers in civil court for workplace injuries, making workers’ compensation insurance the “exclusive remedy” for such injuries.

Every state passed workers’ compensation laws starting with Wisconsin in 1911 and finishing with Mississippi in 1948. Workers’ compensation laws were passed in Utah in 1917. In 1917, the creators of Utah’s workers’ compensation system were distrustful of large insurers that had no local ties. One historical source said Utah public-policy makers distrusted insurance companies located “east of the Hudson River.” The legislature created the State Insurance Fund, the predecessor to WCF Insurance, to be a Utah-based insurance business able to partner with Utah employers.

Only three days after the State Insurance Fund opened its doors, the first lost-time claim was filed.

The first claim

The employer, William Evans & Sons in Logan, produced 10 tons of ice a day and also dug trenches for drainage pipes in Cache Valley. World War I had just begun and one of Mr. Evans employees, Roma Saltzgiver, had recently received his draft notice to report for military service.

On July 3, 1917, while Mr. Saltzgiver was digging a trench, the sides of the trench collapsed. He suffered multiple contusions along with a broken collarbone. He was seen by the doctor a total of seven times at a cost of $1.50 per visit; he received X-rays and other medical services for a total charge of $30.00. At the time of the accident, Mr. Saltzgiver earned $2.50 a day. He was off work for three weeks and three days. With workers’ compensation coverage, he received $27.82 to replace a portion of his lost wages and received full coverage of his medical expenses. He later reported for duty and honorably served our country in World War I.

Maintaining safety

Most workplace accidents can be prevented. Employers who maintain safe work environments enjoy lower insurance premiums; the respect and appreciation of their employees; and the satisfaction that they have spared many people and their families the pain and tragic consequences that frequently accompany serious accidents. Employers and workers in Utah should consider taking Senator Mayne’s challenge to increase their attention to workplace safety.

Workers’ compensation insurance was created to protect employees and employers. Utah has one of the strongest workers’ compensation insurance systems in the country. Utahns are fortunate to live and work in a state where policymakers and regulators have passed effective legislation and rules and regulations designed to protect Utah workers while keeping premiums low for employers.

Make workplace safety a priority by remembering your loved ones who are waiting for you to return home safely. If you are an employer and are wondering where to start, visit wcf.com to access information on Utah Workplace Safety Week and hundreds of free safety resources.