Hospital Workers May Face the Most Hazardous Work Environment
Public perception generally reflects the belief that the construction industry presents the greatest dangers to workers, bar none. However, no Charlotte work accident lawyer at our firm was particularly surprised when we read an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fact sheet that indicates that hospital workers suffer on-the-job injuries at a rate that is almost twice that of the private industry as a whole and slightly higher than the rate of construction-related injuries. We often provide legal assistance to hospital workers who sustained injuries or illnesses as a direct result of the hospital environment.
Contagion Exposure is Far From the Only Risk
While illnesses may be under-reported because they are not typically considered to be work-related, recent statistics indicate that they represent about seven percent of work-related injuries. The nature of hospital work presents more injury risks that lead to days away from work due to the following factors:
- Overexertion: The need to move and lift patients and heavy equipment leads to numerous musculoskeletal disorders from strains and sprains to disc herniations to bone injuries.
- Slips, trips and falls: Between the likelihood of wet floors or even small puddles, along with the need to move quickly to address emergency situations, workers frequently slip on uncarpeted surfaces. Even if they do not actually fall and break bones, the body’s response to slipping often leads to strains and sprains or disc herniations.
- Contact with objects: With attention focused on patients, workers can easily sustain injuries caused by contact with furniture and heavy equipment. Additionally, even with gloves, workers can be injured with a variety of “sharps,” which include needles that can transmit a variety of dangerous diseases.
- Violence: It may be difficult to imagine how patients ridden with extreme injuries or illnesses can be violent, but severe pain can have a pronounced effect on behavior. Of course, criminally or psychologically violent individuals regularly come to hospitals in need of care for their own injuries as well.
Some Hospital Worker Claims Pose Challenges
As a general rule, workers who break bones in clear workplace accidents can pursue initial workers’ compensation claims without undue challenges, as long as they follow the proper claim filing protocol. Still, some claims are less clear. When a worker files a claim for back strain, for example, questions may arise about whether the injury reflects a pre-existing back strain. Additionally, suffering from a contagious illness can raise questions about whether the contagion came from the workplace, as opposed to contact with friends and family.
To further complicate issues, some hospital injuries may reflect carelessness by third parties, such as might be the case when an outside cleaning service employee fails to properly mark a wet floor or when faulty equipment causes injuries. Work injuries caused by third parties may still qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, but NC law can complicate issues because a successful third-party lawsuit can require injured workers to reimburse their employers for at least some of the workers’ compensation benefits they received.