Workers in nearly all occupations are covered by workers’ compensation laws. Most employees are covered by workers’ compensation programs that state laws require employers to provide. Longshoremen, harbor workers, and employees who provide services on docks and piers are typically covered by workers’ compensation that is mandated by federal law.
While the details of those laws differ, they all require employers (or their insurers) to pay for medical treatment that is needed to address workplace injuries. They also require the payment of benefits after workers miss a specified number of workdays because of a work injury. When a work injury causes a permanent impairment, employees are entitled to disability compensation. The families of a deceased worker are entitled to a death benefit.
Workers’ compensation helps employees who suffer from a wide variety of injuries. As long as the injury was caused while the employee was on duty or performing work for an employer, the injury will probably be covered. Here are some of the most common causes of work injuries that we see as workers’ compensation lawyers.
Slips and Trips
Employees who work in areas where grease, oil, water, or other slippery substances accumulate are at risk of slip-and-fall injuries. Tripping over power cords, debris, or other objects in the workplace can also cause a nasty fall.
Broken wrists and damage to the elbow joints frequently occur when a worker tries to break his fall by extending his arms. Workers suffer ankle injuries when their foot is stuck in a hole or wedged beneath a cord as they fall.
Falling backwards can cause tailbone (coccyx) injuries and muscle damage, particularly in the lower back. Any fall can cause torn or stretched muscles in either the upper or lower back.
Head injuries are a risk from falls. Although concussions are usually more serious when a worker falls from a height, any fall has the potential to cause a traumatic brain injury.
Falls from a Height
Falls from a ladder, scaffolding, hydraulic lift, or a building that is under construction will commonly end with broken bones. Arms, legs, and hips are all susceptible to bone fractures when a worker falls from a height.
Traumatic brain injuries and spinal fractures are the most severe consequences of a long fall. When they are not life-ending, those injuries are life-changing. They cause disabilities that may prevent a return to the worker’s job. Vocational rehabilitation might make it possible for a worker to find new employment, but some injures are so severe that the prospect of future employment is unlikely.
Collisions with forklifts and other machines at a worksite are a frequent cause of work injuries. Stevedores sometimes become trapped between two containers as they are being moved together. Vehicular collisions on roads entitle employees to workers’ compensation when they are making deliveries or engaged in other work-related travel.
Impact injuries from collisions include spinal damage, broken ribs and other bone fractures, brain injuries, joint damage, dental injuries, internal organ damage, eye injuries, and a variety of soft tissue injuries caused by torn or stretched muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Some collision injuries heal quickly while others are fatal. Some injures require surgery while others must be treated with physical therapy. Collision injuries result in a range of disabilities that either heal over time or result in permanent residual impairments. Each injury is unique. Regular medical evaluations can assure that injured workers receive the treatment and benefits that workers’ compensation laws require.
Tools and Machinery
While guards and other safety devices are intended to prevent injuries caused by table saws and other cutting tools, severe cuts and amputations are relatively common work injuries. An amputated finger that cannot be reattached is typically regarded as a “scheduled” injury for which workers’ compensation benefits are routinely paid.
Hands and arms can be crushed or mangled by a mechanical press or other equipment found in machine shops and manufacturing facilities. Crush injuries may result in amputations. Less severe injuries require rehabilitation that may or may not lead to full restoration of a hand’s ability to function normally.
More than a third of workplace injuries that cause employees to miss work occur while lifting heavy objects. Employers should train workers in proper lifting techniques. They should also provide appropriate gear, including lifting straps or weight belts, that help employees lift objects without suffering harm. Whether or not an injury could have been prevented, employees are entitled to workers’ compensation when they sustain a lifting injury that requires medical attention.
The most common lifting injuries involve back pain associated with torn or sprained muscles, ligaments, or tendons. Injuries to the shoulder, elbows, and wrists, as well as cartilage and spinal damage, can also be caused by lifting objects at work.
Construction sites and other areas where workers are required to wear hardhats are common locations of head injuries caused by falling objects. A hardhat provides some protection when a worker drops a tool, but the protection can be minimal when the falling object is heavy or has fallen from a significant height. Workers who are not wearing a hard hat are at even greater risk of experiencing a severe or fatal injury.
In addition to fracturing a skull, falling objects can cause a traumatic brain injury. Every head injury should be assessed promptly. Bleeding or swelling of the brain might not produce serious symptoms until it is too late to prevent the worker’s death.
Exposed wires and improperly grounded equipment in the workplace can cause electrical shocks. Nonfatal shocks can cause burns and other skin damage, as well as damage to the heart and other internal injuries.
Cumulative exposure to diesel fumes from ships or equipment can have serious long-term health consequences. Chemicals used in a variety of occupations, ranging from agriculture to manufacturing, can also have a drastic impact on an employee’s health.
Chemicals may cause obvious burns or skin damage. Long-term exposures can cause more subtle injuries to the nervous system, including the brain. Workers’ compensation lawyers can evaluate medical reports regarding long-term illnesses to determine whether the condition is covered by workers’ compensation.