Belsky Weinberg & Horowitz, LLC A Personal Injury & Workers’ Compensation Law Firm

Health care is a high-risk job for injuries

Nurses and care workers get hurt twice as often as construction workers!

You may not think of health care as "back-breaking" labor. In reality, nurses and care workers on the front lines with patients have a higher rate of musculoskeletal injuries - sprains, strains and back injuries - than most blue-collar industries.

Such injuries can be debilitating and even career-ending. The same Baltimore area hospital systems with an international reputation for healing can be callous when it comes to caring for their own injured employees. Workers who are seen as "lingering" on disability are often hassled, shortchanged, pressured back to work or terminated.

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Workers' compensation is a right under Maryland law. But employers have much control over your medical treatment, wage benefits and return to work. If you find yourself off the job from a work-related injury, locate a workers' compensation attorney with specific experience representing health care workers.

Health care employees have a high rate of work injuries

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the average rate of work injury/illness across all industries is about 3.0 injuries per 100 full-time workers. Due to gains in workplace safety, construction and manufacturing jobs, as a whole, are close to that average. But hospital employees have more than double the rate of on-the-job injuries (6.8 injuries per 100) and nursing home workers are at even greater risk.

Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants have the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorders. Nurses and physical therapists also have a high incidence of MSDs. Health care workers are also more likely to miss time from work due to the nature of their job-related injuries.

Five of the 10 most common lost time injuries involve the spine: sprains/strains of the muscles and ligaments of the lumbar (lower back), lumbrosacral (pelvis), thoracic (upper spine and rib cage) and cervical (neck) regions, plus  disc displacement (slipped disc or herniated disc). Rounding out the top 10 are shoulder sprains, ankle sprains and three categories of knee injuries (sprains, contusions and torn meniscus).

Workers' comp for health care workers

Medical personnel face many dangers, from exposure to infectious disease to assaults by belligerent patients. But nurses and care workers are at greatest risk when simply assisting patients - lifting them, turning them in bed or catching them during a fall.

This results in two main categories of injuries:

· Acute injury - You feel a "pop" or shooting pain while lifting a patient that indicates a torn ligament or strained muscle. It is important to timely report ANY injury or incident to the supervisor so that it is documented as a work-related event.

· Repetitive stress injury - Maryland workers' compensation recognizes injuries that arise from the cumulative effect of repeated tasks, such as bending, lifting, twisting or reaching. Rather than any specific event, the muscles or connective tissues simply give out from overuse. You are still entitled to benefits if your work duties aggravated a prior injury or pre-existing condition.

Disability benefits and settlement of claims

Under a temporary disability claim, the employer must cover all related medical treatment and pay wage benefits while you are off the job. Broken bones heal -- a month or two and you're back in action. This is not always the case with injuries to the back, neck or joints. If you are not able to return to work because of the pain and limitations, you may be eligible for permanent disability.

If you elect ongoing disability benefits, there is always the possibility that the employer will seek to reduce the benefit amount or terminate the claim. However, if you take a lump sum settlement, you could forfeit future medical care if your condition worsens over time. Before signing anything, these decisions should be discussed with an experienced workers' compensation lawyer.

Have you suffered injury in a health care job? Do you know someone who lost their livelihood after a hospital or nursing home injury?

Source: Occupational Safety & Health Administration

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