Healthcare Workers Face A High Risk Of Personal Injury
Over the years, I’ve helped numerous healthcare workers injured at Huntsville-area hospitals and nursing homes. We frequently help injured healthcare workers obtain the Alabama workers’ compensation benefits they deserve. Through working with so many injured professionals in this field, we understand the most frequent causes of serious accidents and injuries. Nurses and other healthcare workers face daily risks of injury. These serious injury risks can include:
Lifting Injuries (Most frequently to the lower back)
Repetitive Activity Injuries
Workplace Violence Injuries
Chemical And Drug Exposure Injuries
Biological And Pathogen Injuries
Their jobs are among the most risky and most dangerous in our community. Today I’m going to talk specifically about two issues that I constantly see in my Alabama workers’ compensation cases: Low Back Injuries and Workplace Violence Injuries.
Healthcare Workers Suffer Higher Rates Of Spine Injury
I’ve written about nursing and back injuries on several past occasions. Over the years, I’ve seen more spinal injuries, especially low back conditions, in nurses than almost any other profession. I’ve represented countless workers in very heavy and strenuous jobs — Construction, Trucking, Industrial. Those jobs are often dangerous. But, nursing is the most dangerous job when it comes to nonfatal low back injuries.
What do the labor statistics show? According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, nursing assistants and orderlies each suffer almost three times the rate of back injuries as construction laborers. That’s triple the rate of back injuries suffered by the workers you see on construction sites lifting and carrying heavy items. Some data even indicates that nursing assistants are injured more than any other occupation, followed by warehouse workers, truckers and then registered nurses. Think about that! Nursing assistants suffer one of the highest rates of back injury followed closely by registered nurses.
That adds up to one conclusion — Healthcare workers face a substantial risk of workplace injury. In our workers’ compensation practice we frequently represent nurses and other healthcare workers. It’s common for me to hear an injured nurse relate how she hurt her back moving, by herself, a patient weighing more than 300 pounds. Or, to hear a nurse describe trying to help a patient who suddenly became violent or obstructive. Or, to hear a nurse describe working on her feet for hour after hour barely able to complete all the assigned tasks due to inadequate staffing. Nursing jobs are hard, really hard. Many medical facilities fail to provide help through more personnel or safety equipment.
While nursing jobs are already physically difficult, many hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities add to the danger. How? Too many facilities fail to provide proper staffing. Instead, they overwork their nursing staff with too many shifts and too many patients. That’s wrong. It puts patients at risk. It puts our healthcare workers at risk. Both groups deserve better!
Healthcare Workers Suffer From Workplace Violence
While spinal injuries from routine work tasks are a frequent problem with healthcare workers, they are not the only problem. Healthcare workers must also perform their jobs in the face of emotional, agitated, angry or impaired patients (and accompanying family members). Nursing employees must work around people who are often uncooperative. That adds to the risk of injury. In a recent Fact Sheet, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stated:
Workplace violence in healthcare is an important public health issue and a growing concern.
How concerning is the threat of violence in the healthcare field? Are healthcare workers at greater risk of injury due to workplace violence? According to recent data, healthcare and social service workers experience the highest rates of injury due to workplace violence. According to the Fact Sheet, healthcare workers accounted for 73 percent of all nonfatal workplace violence injuries in 2018. Healthcare workers are 5 times more likely to suffer a workplace violence injury than workers overall. That’s a huge risk over the general workforce.
Everyone understands the risk of injury police officers and firefighters face. But, many people fail to understand the huge risk faced by healthcare workers. Angry, impaired and out-of-control patients. Angry or emotional family members. Often, a single nurse or nursing assistant must face a highly emotional patient or family. Too often, the nurse or nursing assistant is on the front line for any violent outburst.
In the last year, I’ve listened and advised multiple workers injured due to violent patients at the hospital in Decatur as well as several other facilities across northern Alabama. I won’t name the hospital in Decatur — I don’t need to. These nurses faced violent patients with little or no help. I really question how and why the hospital cared so little for its medical staff to put them in such positions of danger.
The Workers’ Compensation System Fails Injured Healthcare Workers
I’ve focused this post on injuries to the spine or due to violence. These are common in my practice. When they occur, the same healthcare facilities often seem to “forget” their primary purpose of helping people heal — By discarding their own injured employees.
If you are a healthcare worker hurt on the job, what can you do? I don’t have the space to address all concerns in this post. So, if you have an injury or workers’ compensation question, call and I’m happy to talk. We always provide free consultations. With that said, I’ll try to address FOUR of the most frequent hurdles facing injured healthcare workers following a serious work-related accident:
Provide NOTICE of your accident as soon as possible!
Alabama’s workers’ compensation law requires injured employees to provide prompt notice. If you don’t, your claim can be denied. Notice is an issue in many cases in all fields of work.
Why is notice an issue? Sometimes, employees think an injury is minor and temporary. Maybe the worker thinks the injury is just temporary and will quickly heal. When the person later realizes the injury is serious, it may be too late. Sometimes, employees are scared of risking their job. Maybe the worker thinks the boss will firm him or her for reporting an accident. Sometimes, employees are so busy they don’t take the time to notify their bosses. When the worker finally gets around to it, it may too late.
Don’t wait to provide notice. Let your employer know about the accident as soon as possible.
Don’t let your employer push you to greater injury!
This is one of the most common post-accident issues in healthcare. The industry is already way under-staffed. So, when you get hurt, your employer may push you to get back to work. Many times, that employer pushes you to return before you should. And, the employer then pushes you to work beyond your restrictions.
Many injured employees return too soon and push themselves beyond their safe restrictions, fearing they will lose their jobs if they don’t. If you do this, you risk further injury. You risk further injury that could worsen your disability and prevent you from ever working in your field. Instead of risking further disability for one job, think of your long-term healing and ability to return to the healthcare field.
Be ready — Your employer may blame you for the accident!
We have one insurance company lawyer in Huntsville who always claims the accident is the worker’s fault. If you were just innocently working at the computer in the nursing station and the ceiling caved-in on you, he would claim it was your fault. That lawyer has really ruined his credibility with many courts by constantly making such ridiculous claims. With that said, you do need to be ready for this issue.
While workers’ compensation is no-fault, you can be denied benefits for choosing to break safety rules or refusing to use provided safety gear. Does the employer really practice the rules? Does the employer really follow procedures? These are the issues.
I’ve seen these issues many times. Maybe the nursing facility has a rule that requires two workers to lift a patient. But, then the facility lacks staffing to meet the rule. When it comes time to lift a patient, the facility provides NO help. Be ready to work with your lawyer to explain how the job was really performed, not how your employer is now falsely claiming it should have been done. You know the reality of the work.
Who are the doctors really helping?
If you are hurt on the job in Alabama, your employer gets to pick the initial authorized treating physician. If you see a physician on your own, worker’s compensation does not have to pay the bill.
Many employers around northern Alabama have a “gatekeeper” occupational doctor who serves as the company’s initial physician. That doctor will see injured workers and then make referrals to specialists such as orthopedists if needed. At our firm, we try to help our clients navigate the frustrating process of obtaining medical care.
When you are hurt at one of our larger healthcare facilities, you may have an added problem. Here it is — Your employer may actually own or manage the occupational doctor’s practice. For example, the OHG (Occupational Health Group) that is one of the largest occupational gatekeeper groups is actually maintained by Huntsville Hospital. And, many of the area specialists naturally work for one of the local hospitals. With all the consolidations, many of them now work directly for Huntsville Hospital. So, when you are hurt and your employer picks the initial doctor, it may be picking one of its own employees. Then, if you are referred to a specialist, you may be referred to another one of its own employees.
In the Huntsville and Birmingham areas, we have some of the best doctors and specialists in the entire world. They provide excellent care. But, our law has not really addressed the potential conflict where your doctor also works for your employer. I really think your doctor should be independent of the employer. You don’t need to worry about the pressure your employer (especially if your employer is a gigantic hospital) may be placing on your physician. That pressure concerns me. I’ve had cases where this appeared to be an issue.
If Injured, Seek Experienced Advice
I could write a lot more on this topic. Healthcare workers face a significant risk of injury. Then, they face unique pressures related to their own medical care and continued employment. If you’ve suffered a work-related accident and have questions, call an experienced Alabama workers’ compensation attorney. Get the answers you need. Your healing and long-term health are too important to risk.