According to a new investigative report by Polina Uzhvak at iStories, the number of workplace injuries at Russian factories could be as much as 44 times higher than the governmentís official statistics indicate. While the rate of fatal workplace accidents in Russia is one of the highest in the world (itís worse only in Egypt, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Mexico, Hong Kong, and Guadeloupe), Russiaís official number of nonfatal workplace accidents is far lower than in more developed countries. iStories argues that this is because itís harder to conceal deaths. Also suspicious is the fact that deaths in Russia are declining more slowly than nonfatal accidents ó the opposite of the trend in the developed world. Additionally, despite supposedly the declining number of workplace injuries, the average sick time used by Russian factory workers has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, suggesting that more injuries are occurring on the job.
Employers have enormous incentives to hide workplace injuries or report them as household incidents. Not only are factory-owners liable for compensation payments, but recorded accidents can also increase their tax burden by as much as 40 percent. Additionally, injuries on the job can trigger inspections by regulators that risk hefty fines and costly stoppages. The fines for concealing accidents, meanwhile, are minuscule by comparison.
Russiaís Health Department also claims that workplace safety has improved over the past decade, but sources told iStories that the falling number of health-code violations has more to do with declining health standards. Many workers also say itís impossible to get the medical attention needed to document injuries sustained on the job.
Labor unionists told iStories that many Russian workers donít know their rights and fear for their jobs, especially in company towns where there is no alternative employment. At the same time, labor unions are often ineffective lobbyists for workers, other sources told iStories. Attracting the attention of the news media, human rights groups, and local officials is often workersí best hope.