Common Work-related Injuries and Employer Responsibilities

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's recent workplace safety index, some of the most common work-related injuries are:

Consistently rated as the most common work-related injury, overextension occurs most often when a worker is pulling, pushing, lifting, gripping, carrying or throwing. Overextension is known to cause sprained and torn muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Back injuries, especially disk herniations, are also frequently caused by overextension.

Repetitive motion
Repetitive motion can cause shoulder and neck pain, arm and wrist pain, and vision problems. Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most commonly reported result of repetitive motion.

Slipping and falling
Slip and fall injuries in the workplace primarily occur when debris, machine lubricant, fluids or beverages are spilled on the floor. Slip and falls frequently result in head injuries, bone fractures, and sprained or torn ligaments.

Falling from heights
Falling from heights occurs when workers fall from roofs, high equipment or lifts, multi-level inventory stations, scaffolding, ladders, and down stairways.

Falling objects
Objects falling from multi-level inventory stations, product shelves, ladders, forklifts, pallets, and other upper level work areas frequently result in serious head, face, neck, and foot injuries.

Moving vehicle accidents
Accidents involving workers whose job duties include driving company vehicles (trucks, cars, vans, tractors, and other motorized vehicles) are common causes of worker injuries. These accidents generally occur on public roads, in parking lots, private driveways, and on company-owned property.

Escalating employee tensions, retaliation, firings, and criminal enterprise are the most common causes of worker assaults.

Preventing Workplace Injuries

The Wellness Council of America says a worker is injured every five seconds, and every ten seconds a worker sustains an injury resulting in temporary or permanent disability. Reducing common work-related injuries takes planning and thought. While you may not have the luxury of choosing from several employers, it's still a good idea to seek employment with a company providing a safe work environment.

Safe work environments start with careful selection of workers. Carefully selecting employees includes running criminal background checks, contacting prospective employees' references, and drug screening.

Although it's illegal to deny employment based on disability, an employer has a responsibility to know if the prospective worker has previous injuries which may affect his ability to work safely. Hiring a worker who isn't physically capable of meeting the demands of the job is dangerous to other workers.

Company-specific safety checklists take the guesswork out of operational activities. Workers should review checklists before operating machinery, lifting objects, dealing with toxic substances, or engaging in other potentially hazardous activities. Workers who ignore company checklists are more likely to miss an integral step in the process. One misstep can result in multiple injuries.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to follow specific safety guidelines. These can include requiring workers to wear protective clothing, goggles, respirators, or safety shoes, and designating specific workers whose duties include keeping floors clear of debris.

Companies need to make clear restrictions for workers whose duties include lifting inventory, machinery, and other heavy objects. Workers who lift excessively heavy objects should wear safety belts and harnesses. Using weight-to-worker ratios, a company can identify objects that are too heavy for one worker to lift.

Some jobs require formal training. Improper or insufficient training in the operation of machinery, vehicles, tools, and handling of toxic substances is an invitation to accidents. Continuing education and regular reviews of workers' skills is vital to protect employees from injury.

Ergonomic design of work stations can help reduce common work related injuries like neck, shoulder, and back strain, and can also reduce the potential for carpel tunnel syndrome.

What To Do If You're Injured on the Job

Every state requires employers to provide workers' compensation insurance to their employees. With some exceptions, on-the-job injuries are covered by workers' comp medical and partial wage benefits.

The first action after an injury is to seek medical help. If necessary, ask fellow workers or your supervisor to administer first aid or call 911. As soon as possible, file a formal "first report of injury" with your employer or the workers' comp representative.

Try to document your injury and its cause with photographs and video. Use a digital camera or cell phone to capture the scene as it was at the time of your injury. Look for spilled fluids, broken stairwell banisters, overpacked shelves, or other dangerous conditions that may have caused your injury.

Also get the names and contact information of witnesses. Ask them to write down what they saw and sign and date the statement; it doesn't have to be notorized. Be sure your employer completes an "incident report" that documents your injury and its causes.

While workers' compensation is a form of no-fault insurance, the more documented witness testimony and photographic evidence you have, the stronger your claim will be. This is especially important if your employer's actions constituted a reckless disregard for your safety, or were grossly negligent. If so, you may be able to file a third party lawsuit for negligence against your employer.

Unlike workers' comp, which only covers your medical bills, some out-of-pocket expenses, and a portion of your lost wages, a negligence lawsuit can result in compensation for your medical bills, all of your lost wages, an amount for your pain and suffering, and possibly punitive damages.

If your injuries are serious enough to require medical care beyond first aid at the scene, ask your employer to provide a list of company-approved physicians. From that list, choose one to be your "primary physician."

The primary physician diagnoses your injuries and refers you to a company-approved, injury-specific health care provider. Depending on your state, this can be an M.D., D.O., N.M.D. (naturopath), registered nurse practitioner, physician's assistant, chiropractor, massage therapist, dentist, orthopedist, or other specialist.

Workers' compensation pays all covered healthcare provider bills, your out-of-pocket expenses (for medications, crutches, etc.), costs of transportation to and from treatment, and other related costs. During treatment, you'll receive about two-thirds of your normal wages.

Your physician determines when you've reached a level of maximum medical improvement (MMI). At that point, depending on your physical limitations and disability, you can negotiate a settlement with the insurance company. If there's a dispute about your medical condition, workers' comp may require you to submit to an independent medical evaluation (IME).

The Role of Attorneys

If you aren't satisfied with how your injury claim is being handled, or you were injured due to your employer's reckless conduct or gross negligence (or a defective product), you should seek the advice and counsel of an experienced workers' compensation attorney.

Most workers' comp attorneys don't charge for an initial office consultation. If you choose to retain an attorney to represent you, his or her legal fees will be limited to approximately twenty-five percent of your settlement award, if any.

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