Worker’s Compensation and SSDI for Injured Healthcare Workers

January 8, 2018

Worker’s Compensation and SSDI for Nurses & Other Healthcare Workers

The work of healthcare professionals and hospital workers is physically demanding and must be done at an incredibly fast pace. Nurses such as RNs, LPNs and NPs, Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs), Home Health Aides, Home Health Attendants, Home Health Care Workers, Hospital Orderlies and Attendants, Nurse Anesthetists, Physical Therapists, Nursing Home Workers, and Paramedics are constantly bending and lifting and twisting and reaching. Often they are physically lifting or restraining patients much larger than they.

These movements over time create wear and tear on the body.  When combined with the fact that some facilities often do not have enough staff to handle the workload, the physical demand of the job and the frantic pace with which they must perform their duties adds even more stress, both physical and mental.

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, “More workers are injured in the healthcare and social assistance industry sector than any other. This industry has one of the highest rates of work related injuries and illnesses. In 2010, the healthcare and social assistance industry reported more injury and illness cases than any other private industry sector – 653,900 cases.”

In addition to physical injury, health care workers are exposed to toxic substances such as drugs and chemicals as well as blood borne illnesses and infectious diseases, not to mention radioactivity from X-rays.

If a health care professional is injured or contracts a disease at work, he or she is likely entitled to workers compensation benefits.

Health Care is a High-Risk Profession

Nurses and other health care professionals face a variety of serious health and safety concerns. Though employers are required to maintain a safe work environment, accidents can and do happen. Healthcare workers are frequently exposed to risk of the following:

  • Blood borne pathogens such as Hepatitis C and HIV from sharps
  • Needlestick injuries and being cut or stabbed with scalpels
  • Biological hazards
  • MRSA
  • Potential chemical and drug exposures
  • Respiratory hazards
  • Slip, fall, and lifting hazards
  • Lasers, x-rays, and radioactive materials
  • Laboratory hazards
  • Back and neck injuries
  • Shoulder injuries
  • Repetitive stress injuries
  • Bursitis: inflammation or irritation of the bursa
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: damage to the median nerve in the wrist
  • Epicondylitis: inflammation or damage to an epicondyle of bone
  • Injuries caused by violence: cuts, black eyes, bites and other injuries caused by aggressive patients
  • Tendinitis: inflammation or irritation of a tendon
  • Tenosynovitis: inflammation and pain affecting the sheath surrounding a tendon
  • Tension neck syndrome: break down of tissues in the neck muscles
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome: compression of nerves in blood vessels or nerves between the collarbone and first rib
  • Psychological Injuries such as PTSD

OSHA notes that “Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants had the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorders of all occupations in 2010. The incidence rate of work related musculoskeletal disorders for these occupations was 249 per 10,000 workers. This compares to the average rate for all workers in 2010 of 34.”

OSHA further reports that nurses and nursing assistants suffered more than 60 percent of all reported workplace injuries between 2012 and 2014.

Back and Neck Injuries Are the Most Common Injuries Nurses Suffer

By far, back pain is the most common complaint of nurses, CNA’s, home health care aides, and other healthcare workers. It is also common in construction, childcare, and manufacturing.

Causes of Back Pain in Healthcare

There are many contributors to back pain in healthcare workers’ place of work, some of which can include:

  • Overexertion
  • Lifting objects or people that are too heavy exerts a lot of pressure on your spine and can cause painful injuries, reaching while lifting a heavy object, and bending while lifting.
  • Repetitive movements
  • Repeating the same motions over time can cause muscle fatigue and eventual injury.
  • Poor posture
  • Loss of footing or slippery floor
  • Poorly executed lifting, bending, carrying, or pulling or pushing something

Back injuries can be costly and require long term medical care, and long periods of missed time at work. Some of the more common work-related back injuries include:

  • Bulging, herniated and ruptured discs
  • Nerve damage
  • Slipped discs
  • Strains and sprains

Sometimes a back injury that is severe enough that a person is unable to work, the injury also makes the tasks of daily living very challenging for the injured person to handle on their own. If you are an injured nurse or other healthcare professional, and you injured your back at work, you should talk to an experienced Philadelphia workers’ compensation attorney who will answer your questions and evaluate your case at no charge.

Injuries from Lifting Patients are the Most Common Nursing Injuries

Healthcare professionals routinely lift infirm patients into and out of bed, chairs, and more. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses report over 35,000 back and other lifting-related injuries every year – and these are injuries that are serious enough to miss work. Surprisingly, nurses face an even greater risk of injury than workers in fields that involve only physical labor, including construction and factory work.

Although nurses, nursing assistants, and other healthcare professionals are taught techniques to reduce the risk of injury when handling patients, those techniques do not always help. Even when using proper body mechanics, bending at the knees and the hips, and keeping the back straight, lifting patients causes enormous strain to the spine.

Why Are Lifting Injuries So Common Among Healthcare Workers?

There are certain circumstances that increase the injury risk of lifting. When a nurse repeats the same movement over and over, this repetition can create small tears in the plates that send nutrients to disks in the back. This leads to scar tissue that halts the flow of nutrients, causing disks to deteriorate faster. When a nurse has to lift a patient from their bedside, the distance puts greater stress on the body. Even when nurses bend at the knee to lift, any bending movement can change the way weight is distributed, causing intense strain on the spine.

Even when team lifting is employed, there can still be excessive strain on a nursing worker’s body. First, there are not always enough staff members available to create a lift team at a moment’s notice. Sometimes a patient needs to be lifted immediately in a life-or-death situation, so nurses and nursing assistants must mobilize with no time to wait. And, with a team, not everyone is able to carry the same amount of weight, and so a patient’s weight can be distributed unevenly. This can cause injuries to those who are carrying the greatest of weight, or during moments when the weight shifts.

Many back injuries that take place at work are preventable, so let’s take a look at some tips that you can follow to help preserve the health of your back and prevent injuries and the loss of time at work:

How Healthcare Professionals Can Prevent Injuries from Lifting

The following are a few guidelines that you can follow to prevent back injuries in the workplace:

  • Maintain or improve optimal physical fitness by combining exercises such as walking, bike riding or swimming and strength training that strengthen and tone your core abdominal muscles that support your back.
  • Maintain good posture. Stand up tall with your weight balanced on your feet. Sit with your feet flat on the floor and support your lower back with a pillow.
  • Observe proper body mechanics when lifting objects
    • If something is too heavy, get someone to help you lift it, or use a cart
    • Bend your knees and lift with your legs not your back
    • Do not twist as you lift
    • Take a break at least once an hour and bend and gently stretch out your back muscles

Needlestick Injuries

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are approximately 800,000 needlestick injuries each year in the United States, 16,000 of which could be contaminated with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). OSHA reports that the overall rate of needlestick injuries is 27 per 100 occupied beds annually.

Workers in the health care industry are at the greatest risk of sustaining needlestick injuries, as well as other sharps-related injuries, including stab wounds from scalpels or other sharp objects. These injuries often occur due to improper procedures, dangerous equipment, inadequate training, and fatigue due to stressful, fast-paced work environments.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in 2002, two million of the 35 million health care workers were exposed to infectious diseases. Among health care workers, nurses are the most frequently injured by needlestick injuries, accounting for 49.7 percent of exposures.

The Dangers of Needlestick Injuries

Needlestick injuries can cause serious or fatal infections. In addition to HIV, needlestick injuries may expose workers to more than 20 bloodborne pathogens, including Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. The WHO reports that 37.6 percent of Hepatitis B and 39 percent of Hepatitis C in health care workers are due to needlestick injuries. These diseases can lead to liver disease, cirrhosis, primary hepatocellular carcinoma, and death.

Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne disease in the U.S. The disease tends to progress slowly, so an individual who has contracted the disease may not display symptoms for many years.

Hepatitis C causes liver disease, which has several symptoms including:

  • Itchy skin
  • Sore muscles
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Joint pain
  • Difficulty sleeping and/or insomnia

These symptoms can make people ill enough that they are unable to perform their jobs.

Qualifying for Social Security Disability with Hepatitis C

In order to qualify medically for SSD when you have been diagnosed with SSD, you must be able to prove that your symptoms are severe enough to keep you from being able to work, and that the effects of your treatment also limits your ability to work. Your medical records must show evidence of the physical impairment and precisely how it keeps you from being able to do your work. The evidence in your medical records must be within 60 to 90 days of your application.

Unless your evidence can show that your symptoms are so severe that you are unlikely to be able to any kind of work, the SSA will do an assessment to determine what kind of work tasks you are able to do.

This assessment will take the form of a Residual Functional Capacity Assessment (RFC). This process determines whether you can do medium, light or sedentary work based on the functional limitations in your medical records. After the RFC has been completed, the SSA will decide what kind of work you should be able to handle.

Did you contract Hepatitis C at work? You need an experienced Social Security Disability attorney.

Working with a lawyer who has experience working with the Social Security Administration and helping other clients get approved for benefits will improve your chances of getting approved. SSD attorneys know the process inside and out. You will have access to their understanding of the process and they can represent you if you are required to appear in a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge who will decide your case.

Contact the Philadelphia SSD attorneys at Larry Pitt & Associates who are ready to help. We keep multiple offices throughout PA to serve our clients in Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties.

MRSA

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection is a common risk for nurses and other health care professionals. MSRA infections can cause painful abscesses that may be life-threatening. Surgical draining is used to drain the abscesses. C.diff infection, which can cause intense abdominal pain, fever, and long-term diarrhea, is another common risk for nurses.

Psychological Injuries

Occupational Stress

Occupational stress is a significant issue for health care workers, which can lead to irritability, job dissatisfaction, and depression. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines occupational stress as “the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.” Nurses may experience work overload, time pressures, sleep deprivation, limited social support, and difficult and seriously ill patients that add to occupational stress. Studies show that health care workers have higher rates of depression and anxiety linked to job stress.

Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site,” as defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to OSHA, nurses are highly vulnerable to workplace violence, occurring more often during times of high activity or when the facility is understaffed. Consequences of workplace violence may be acute or chronic, and range in intensity. Exposure to work-related violence against co-workers and patients can lead to psychological trauma as well.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2010, healthcare workers and social assistance workers were the victims of approximately 11,370 assaults, a 13 percent increase over the previous year.

Exposure to Traumatic Events

Exposure to serious traumatic events can also lead to severe psychological injury. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event and often has long-lasting psychological effects.

When are Healthcare Workers’ Injuries or Diseases Covered by Workers’ Compensation?

Any time a nurse, CNA, Aide, Orderly, or Attendant, or any other healthcare worker is injured in the course of doing his or her work, that person may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The most common places where they are likely to be injured include:

  • In emergency rooms
  • In loading areas for patients brought in by ambulance
  • While working in a nursing home ot mental health facility
  • While providing at-home care for hospice patients
  • While providing at-home care as a home health care worker
  • In private doctors’ offices
  • In clinics
  • While handling blood work

When healthcare workers suffer an injury or contract a disease at work, they must seek medical attention and then inform their employer. Pennsylvania workers’ compensation covers their medical expenses for the injury or disease and will pay them a temporary, partial wage-loss benefit for the days they must miss work while recuperating from their injury.

What to do when a Workplace Injury Aggravates a Healthcare Worker’s Pre-Existing Injury?

If a nurse, CNA, home health aide, or attendant was injured on the job, recovered from that injury, and then returned to doing the same kind of work, they may be susceptible to injuring themselves in a way that aggravates the old injury.

Know that a worker who sustains a new injury that aggravates a pre-existing injury is still eligible to receive worker’s compensation benefits. After they recover from the new injury, they may be assigned modified duties when they return to work, or they may be able to receive permanent partial disability benefits if the injury becomes permanent. Unfortunately, it is common for a health care worker who suffers a back, neck or shoulder injury to be unable to return to work.

Health care workers may hesitate to take care of their own needs because they focus so much on caring for others, but it is vital that nurses and other health care workers inform their employer when they are injured rather than trying to be tough and continue to do their very difficult job.

Are You a Healthcare Worker Who Was Injured on the Job?

If you are a nurse or another type of health care professional who is facing a workers’ compensation dispute, an experienced Philadelphia workers’ compensation attorney can guide you through the process and protect your right to receive the compensation you have worked hard to earn.

You care deeply about people and you love your work, but when you become injured because of the grueling physical demands of your work, you deserve to receive workers’ compensation benefits while you are recuperating. If you need legal support for your workers’ compensation claim, you are encouraged to contact a Philadelphia workers’ compensation attorney at Larry Pitt & Associates. You may arrange a no-cost consult to discuss your workers’ compensation case by filling out our contact form or call 888.PITT.LAW. We work with injured workers like you throughout Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties.

Free Consultation with Larry Pitt