When you think of hospitals and other medical facilities, you might be mistaken for assuming they’re the safest environments for workers. Although it’s known for taking care of injuries and diseases, the healthcare industry also accounts for some of the worst cases of workplace hazards. These include exposure to harmful chemicals and dangerous drugs, violence, depression, back injuries as well as various allergies.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare occupations are projected to grow at a faster rate than all other occupational groups. While this is good news for employees in the sector, it also means that if safety doesn’t improve then the number of health care worker injuries are likely to rise as well.
Causes of Healthcare Worker Injuries
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) was passed in 1970 and created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This agency of the US Department of Labor is tasked with ensuring the safety of workers in the healthcare industry. Other than conducting workplace inspections and enforcing safety standards, OSHA also trains, educates and assists healthcare workers with a view of reducing work-related injuries.
Despite OSHA’s existence, healthcare remains one of the most dangerous occupations in America. Private industry hospital workers report higher rates of injuries and illness than their public sector counterparts. These rates are higher than those reported in construction and manufacturing, industries that have traditionally been deemed dangerous.
One of the major causes of workplace injuries for healthcare workers is over-exertion. If you’re a nurse, for example, you might find yourself having to regularly lift and move patients. You might also have to carry or reposition medical equipment, activities that might lead to slips, falls or long term back pain.
Being in the healthcare industry also means working long hours to ensure your patients are taken care of. After some time, this might take a toll on your physical and mental health. Even without working long hours, the boredom and monotony associated with doing the same repetitive tasks daily can easily cause you to be less alert and more susceptible to accidents. Understaffing is a related issue because it forces the few available employees to work more extended hours.
Due to working with patients who are in various forms of pain, you might be exposed to unwarranted bullying or even violence. This might put you in the unusual position of being a patient yourself, either through counseling or receiving treatment for injuries.
Common Healthcare Occupational Injuries
- Sprains and Strains
These injuries are mainly caused by overexertion and performing repetitive tasks over a long period. Although most affect the back and shoulders, in severe situations they can create slipped discs in the spinal cord.
There are various causes for fractures including slipping, falling, lifting patients and heavy equipment, and violence at the workplace. Depending on the type of fracture you suffer, you could be out of work for months or even years.
Although many fractures heal without needing surgery, some are so severe that you might need multiple surgeries to fix them.
As a health care worker, you get to mingle daily with patients suffering from various illnesses. This proximity heightens your chances of contracting diseases, especially if they’re airborne or spread through body fluids.
- Head Injuries
Fatigue, slips, falls, and violent attacks may cause potentially serious head injuries that might lead to more complications later on.
- Needle sticks
If you’re a nurse or medical professional who regularly administers injections or handles sharp instruments, you’re at risk of this injury. These are unintended stabs that if contaminated with a patient’s blood or body fluids may end up infecting you with infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.
In other instances, chemicals from such medical instruments may splash on your eyes, mouth or skin, causing severe irritation or worse.
If you suffer any of these injuries or illnesses, you should remember that your health is a top priority. Depending on how severe the condition is, you should immediately seek First Aid, or advanced medical attention where necessary.
Cost of Healthcare Worker Injuries
There are numerous economic and social costs associated with occupational hazards in the healthcare industry. Although the National Safety Council works hard to collect data on the actual cost of healthcare worker injuries, the truth is it’s not easy to quantify the exact figure. Some of these costs include:
- Compensation Insurance
This is the most apparent financial cost of workplace injuries. If you ever get injured at your workplace, you can depend on insurance to cover a sizeable chunk of your medical expenses. Although this is good news, your coverage might not satisfactorily cover the entire cost of your workplace injuries.
Depending on your employer’s plan and the extent of your injuries, you might have to supplement whatever you receive through insurance claims with personal savings. Your plan might also increase the cost of premiums after an injury, thereby increasing your employer’s financial burden.
- Loss in Productivity
In the unfortunate event, you’re involved in an accident, work might come to a standstill. This disruption could range from your colleagues stopping their work for a few minutes to assist you, to an entire department being shut down for some time while investigations are being conducted.
This loss in productivity might end up costing your employer a lot in terms of lost revenue. Other costs might include looking for and training someone to replace you while you recover.
- Administrative Expenses
These are costs associated with handling public and private insurance, as well as legal costs involved when an accident or injury happens. The difference between premiums received by private insurance companies and the claims they pay out is also a form of administrative cost.
- Medical Costs
Unfortunately, suffering an accident or injury could turn out to be a costly affair. Other than potentially disabling you for a long time, it will also drain you financially due to servicing various medical needs. These include the cost of medicine, ambulance services, and paying for specialized care.
- Employers’ Uninsured Costs
Even though your healthcare employer has insurance to take care of any workplace accidents or injuries, there are still other costs they might have to cover using company resources. Your employer bears uninsured costs as a way of compensating for the time lost by uninjured employees.
Such include the time spent helping your injured colleague, giving witness accounts to investigators, working overtime to maintain normal productivity levels, and training the injured colleague’s replacement.
- Intangible Costs
These are the costs that can’t be quantified in monetary terms but still end up adversely affecting you or your workplace after an injury or accident. Examples include a tarnished company reputation, demoralized employees, reduced efficiency, and lower quality of service.
These costs are best explained using the iceberg analogy. The most obvious ones represent only a tip of the iceberg, with the hidden ones making up the bulk of total costs. This shows that suffering an accident has far-reaching consequences not just for you as the employee, but for your dependants and acquaintances as well.
By law, all employers are obligated to guarantee their employees a safe workplace. As a healthcare worker, you should perform your duties in a facility that’s devoid of serious hazards. It should also comply with all OSHA regulations. Your employer should conduct regular internal safety and health inspections to ensure the safest working conditions.
Some of these basic safety requirements include using the safest chemicals available, having slip resistant floors, and ensuring the ventilation system can disperse any potentially harmful fumes. Other regulations are:
- Informing employees of potential hazards via training, color coding systems, accurate labeling, installing alarm systems, and having detailed chemical information sheets.
- Maintaining precise records concerning workplace injuries and illnesses.
- Performing tests as outlined by OSHA standards, such as air purity and post-incident drug tests. Your employer should also readily provide any medical tests mandated by the safety regulator.
- Making sure data concerning workplace injuries and illnesses is posted where all employees can access it.
- Promptly responding to an injured employee by providing first aid, collecting relevant information about the accident, ensuring he or she receives proper medical care and following up on their recovery.
- Notifying OSHA officials as soon as possible following a fatal workplace injury or incident in which 3 or more employees are hospitalized. This should be done within 8 hours of such serious events.
- Employers must never discriminate against employees who complain about workplace safety issues. OSHA has a whistleblower program that enables you to make such complaints to the agency.
- Although accidents are not entirely avoidable, if your employer follows these regulations then your healthcare workplace will be a much safer place.
Workers Compensation Law
Each state has rules in place requiring healthcare employers to cater to workers’ compensation benefits. In California, most employees are covered by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Law. Most employers take this type of insurance coverage as a way of shielding themselves from potentially crippling claims should an accident happen in their premises.
As a healthcare worker, some of the advantages offered by this regulation include:
- Statutory benefits in case you suffer an accidental injury while performing your duties.
- Provisions for wage loss, medical care, and death benefits.
- Protection by the law so long as you’re a recognized employee and not an independent contractor.
- Leniency as far as finding fault for the accident is concerned. Whether your negligence or the employer’s caused it, chances of being paid benefits are still impressive.
- The state is responsible for investigating accidents and facilitating benefits. This gives you a better chance of getting your claims paid than with private insurance companies.
Remember, you’ll only be paid benefits associated with work-related accidents. If your injuries are self-inflicted or caused through intoxication or drug abuse, you will not receive any benefits. Some of the payable benefits are:
- Wage replacement in case of a temporary or permanent disability.
- Medical needs and rehabilitation expenses.
- Some occupational illnesses as specified by California law.
- In the unfortunate event of a fatal injury, your next of kin will be eligible for benefits.
To increase your chances of receiving benefits after a work-related accident, you should make sure you make a timely report of the injury. You should also fill all the necessary forms with details of the incident, to make investigations and claim processing easier.
How the Workers’ Compensation Schemes Compare to Other Benefits
Due to similarities like services offered, sometimes other benefits programs overlap with workers’ compensation schemes. These gray zones are sometimes ambiguous to the point of confusion as to the exact amount an injured employee qualifies for in benefits.
In case you qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, it’s possible to offset them against retirement plans, medical plans, social security, and federal benefits. There are no clear cut rules when it comes to doing this. If you’re confused about the difference between workers’ benefits and health insurance, understanding the purpose of each will clear the air.
Workers’ compensation is a form of business insurance that strictly covers only work-related injuries, while health insurance compensates you for injuries suffered in non-work setups. Disability insurance falls under health insurance and pays you for lost income that you will lose in case of a career-ending injury.
Although disability insurance is optional in some states, California has a mandatory state disability program which offers benefits to every eligible employee.
Benefits Payments According to Injury Severity
The amount you receive as benefits payable will depend on the severity of your work-related injuries. These are classified as either partial or total, which also denotes either temporary or permanent injury status. From these four terms, there are four main categories of injuries that determine compensation claims:
- Temporary Partial
This mostly refers to non-life threatening injuries such as fractures that will completely heal. You will be able to resume your health care work after a short fully recovery. Payments are usually made to cover medical expenses and lost wages.
- Temporary Total
You can fully recover from this type of injury but will be unable to go to work for some time. These injuries need bed rest or even extended hospital stays.
- Permanent Partial
This is an injury that leads to irreversible damage, such as a lost limb or eye. While the employee will always have a disability, he or she will at some point be able to perform some work, even if it’s different from the one they were initially doing.
- Permanent Total
This is the type of injury that one is never expected to recover from. As such, this patient never goes back to work. It also attracts the highest amount of benefits paid because of the severe nature of injuries.
Can You Get Shortchanged by a Workers’ Compensation Program?
While these programs exist for a noble reason, sometimes injured employees can feel otherwise. The program protects your employer from having to pay large awards that might bring his or her business to its knees. At the same time it guarantees that you have a cushion to fall back on, should you ever suffer an injury. In return for this guarantee, you’re expected to waive your right to sue your employer in case you experience a severe work-related injury.
While this arrangement saves you the time it would have taken to litigate; in some cases, you might receive benefits that are much lower than the actual amount you need for treatment and rehabilitation. However, the state provides some exceptions for workers who want to sue for damages.
You may consider filing a lawsuit if:
- You have strong suspicion or evidence that your injury was caused through deliberate actions by your employer or co-workers.
- You were deliberately exposed to dangerous chemicals or defective equipment.
- Your injury was caused by a third party, such as a landowner or subcontractor.
Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim in California
In case you get injured while performing your health care duties, you should promptly inform your employer. You should also receive any necessary first aid as well as full medical attention to prevent complications. Your employer should give you a claim form that you’re required to fill and return. If this form is not provided, contact the state agency responsible for workers’ compensation affairs.
After you fill the form, it should be forwarded to the insurance company responsible for workers’ compensation for processing. Within 24 hours of an injury, you should have been granted enough coverage for your medical costs. After 14 days, you should have received word from the insurer about your claim. In most instances, it will be accepted, although it can also be denied or delayed.
In case of a delay, the insurance provider might take up to 90 days to conduct investigations into your injuries. If they do not give you feedback after this, or your claim gets denied, you should inform California’s division of workers’ compensation board. At this point, it’s also advisable to hire a qualified workers’ compensation attorney.
How to Handle Contested Cases
After filing your claim, you might discover that your employer is challenging its validity. This could be the main reason for its rejection. An employer might question validity as a way of reducing overall business expenses. As more successful claims are processed, your company might be forced to pay higher amounts in premiums.
The California workers’ compensation board will step in to conduct investigations on the validity of your claim. This will include getting a doctor to assess your physical and mental condition. In this instance, you won’t enjoy doctor-patient confidentiality because the physician’s findings will also be availed to your employer, who might use them to argue that your injury is either not work-related, or as severe as you claim.
If the board rules that your claim is without merit, you’ll be given a chance to appeal. The appeal will first be heard by the state’s workers’ compensation board. If you exhaust all appeals options provided by the board but still feel like your claim hasn’t been treated fairly, you can proceed to state court. Some employers are prepared to spend large sums hiring attorneys to dispute your claim. For you to have a chance of succeeding, you also need to hire a qualified workers’ compensation attorney to fight for your rights.
Hire a Skilled Workers’ Compensation Attorney Near Me
Due to complicated legal procedures, it’s advisable that you hire a competent attorney to assist you. This move can ensure you have some comfort during the otherwise painful recovery period.
- Help with filing claims. This will eliminate any errors in the filing process that might be used to deny or delay your benefits.
- Assistance with dispute resolution mechanisms. Since skilled attorneys know your exact rights, they can use legal tools to argue that your injury was indeed work related.
- Compiling evidence on your behalf. If you have concrete proof, then chances are higher that your claim will be successfully processed.
- Engaging in negotiations on your behalf. After a particularly severe injury, you might find out you need more money to treat your injuries than initially thought. A skilled attorney will make a good case before your employer. He or she will know when to settle and when to push for more significant awards.
- Representing you during proceedings. Due to the nature of your injuries, you might find it hard to pay attention to every single proceeding concerning your claims. Your lawyer will lift this burden off your shoulders and ensure justice is done.
- Appealing on your behalf. Just because your claim has been rejected doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. An expert lawyer knows just what to do during appeals.
If you’re a health care worker in Los Angeles, CA, looking for an attorney to assist with your claim process, then you’re in the right place.
Other than having years of experience with workers’ compensation claims, we have high moral standards and treat our customers with respect and compassion. Our ability to empathize with your unfortunate situation puts us in a better position to fight or your rights. Our services are available throughout Los Angeles, California. For more information call Workers Compensation Attorney Law Firm at 310-956-4277 to schedule a free consultation today!