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Southern Minnesota Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Shift work threatens health and safety of health care workers

Health care workers make up a significant percentage of the millions of shift workers nationwide, including Minnesota. However, researchers say that working through the night and sleeping in the daytime adversely affect the health of these workers. Scientists have even suggested that shift work can be seen as a carcinogen.

Each person has an internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, which tells the body when to be active, when to sleep and when to eat. It naturally wants the body to become inactive when it is dark, but shift work requires the opposite. The circadian rhythm also regulates many of the body's physiological processes, and disrupting the rhythm has multiple adverse effects on the lives of shift workers.

Worker injuries: Fatigue often causes emergency vehicle crashes

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 6,500 ambulances are involved in crashes nationwide each year, including Minnesota. When accidents involve emergency vehicles that travel at high speeds, worker injuries are often severe. This typically applies to emergency vehicles that have to rush to crisis scenes.

Analysis of the crash details gathered by the NHTSA involving fire trucks, police cars or ambulances shows that a significant percentage of these accidents result in severe injuries and death. Safety authorities use the data to learn how many of the victims are drivers of emergency vehicles. Another part of the study is to determine the cause of the crashes.

Fatal workplace injuries: Grain bin deaths are preventable

Grain bin deaths are preventable, and yet they continue to occur. To create awareness of potential risks of being overwhelmed by grain, the week of Feb.17 through Feb. 23 will be the Grain Bin Safety Week of 2019 in 14 states, one of which is Minnesota. Researchers say significant numbers of grain engulfment incidents occur every year, and 2010 was the worst year, with at least 26 fatalities in grain bins.

Safety authorities say farm workers enter grain bins to remove rotting or clumped grain without turning off machinery, and they do not realize that engulfment happens in the blink of an eye. Authorities aim to encourage safe procedures for entering grain bins and monitoring grain bins for the presence of toxic gases. Maintaining a high quality of grain and ensuring no entry without adequate safety equipment form part of the campaign.

What are the costliest workplace injuries?

Due to safety regulations, employers continually make moves to protect their employees. Not only are workers’ compensation claims costly, but when you care about those on your workforce, job-related injuries can also be devastating. Injuries suffered on the job can affect overall morale. And depending on the situation, overall productivity and sales can suffer as well.

Regardless of how hard employers try to make the workplace safe, accidents can happen anywhere. According to a recent list of the top 10 causes of disabling injuries during 2018, the cost of workplace injuries to United States businesses exceeded $58 billion last year.

Frostbite is a workplace injury that needs more awareness

A doctor at a Minnesota burn center says frostbite is more common than what most people think. The facility treated 90 patients for frostbite during last winter. He says that familiarity with the bitter cold of the Minnesota winters brings about complacency that could be dangerous. He says it is crucial to see frostbite as a burn injury that happens when a person's skin and the underlying tissues freeze, and it is a workplace injury that could occur quickly.

The best way for employers to prevent frostbite is to make sure workers remain aware of the danger and teach them how to prevent it. An employee whose skin is exposed to subzero temperatures can get frostbite within 30 minutes. At minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit, with a bit of added wind or wetness, it could happen within 15 minutes. The consequences could be severe, ranging from the affected body parts always being more sensitive to low temperatures and life-long numbness in affected areas to amputation in the most severe cases.

Typical hazards faced by health care workers

Thousands of workers in Minnesota risk their health and safety every day while they care for others -- often saving lives. Health care workers include those working in hospitals, patients' homes, dental offices and other medical facilities. Although the list of hazards they face is endless, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified some primary risks.

One of the dangers to which health care workers face on a daily basis includes their exposure to airborne and blood-borne pathogens. The most severe consequences of infections include contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, Ebola fever, swine flu or other life-threatening illnesses caused by viruses, fungi and bacteria, and other pathogens. Another hazard involves chemicals such as sanitizing agents and substances used for cleaning, and laboratory chemicals pose a variety of health hazards.

HAVS is a workplace injury that could lead to amputation

Workers in Minnesota and elsewhere who are exposed to the vibrations of power tools for many years might not realize the dangers for serious injuries. Those who work in manufacturing, construction, forestry, food processing, agriculture and other industries that use power tools are at risk of developing a workplace injury called Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), also known as Vibration White Finger Syndrome (VWF). The tools that could cause this affliction include grinders, chainsaws, jackhammers, chippers, crushers, mowers, sorting conveyors and more.

This condition could ultimately lead to amputation of the fingertips due to the development of gangrene. It starts with symptoms that include short spells of numbness and tingling of the fingers, and develops into painful hand spasms that could last up to an hour at a time. It also causes the fingers to become a whitish color. With the progression of the condition, the victim might become unable to work with small objects like nuts and bolts, and buttoning a shirt might even become a problem.

Denied workers' comp claims: Options still exist

Safety hazards exist in every workplace in Minnesota, whether at a construction site, a fulfillment center or in an office. Employers are expected to protect the health and safety of employees, and to carry insurance that will provide financial assistance should they suffer workplace injuries or illnesses. However, not all benefits claims are approved, and there might be questions about denied workers' comp claims.

Strict timelines exist for a worker to notify an employer of injuries, and also for an employer to file a benefits claim with the insurance provider. Exceeding time limits could lead to rejection. An employer might assert that injuries were not suffered during work hours, or that horseplay or unlawful activities caused them. Claims for injuries that do not fall within the list of compensable injuries might be denied, and if the worker required no medical treatment, there might not be a basis for financial relief.

Nursing accidents: Needlestick injuries can cause infections

Health care workers in Minnesota face an endless list of occupational hazards. Injuries caused by sharp objects represent a sizable percentage of overall incidents. Registered nurses are at a significant risk of nursing accidents that expose them to blood-borne infections if safety protocols lack standards to monitor use and disposal safety of needles and other sharp instruments and objects.

Research by the American Nurses Association indicates that these risks concern almost two-thirds of the members of the association. Authorities believe that only about one-half of needlestick injuries are reported, making the annual incidents even more staggering than the reported approximate 385,000 per year. These numbers were reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The dangers of working in construction

If you are a construction worker, you already know the dangers involved in your job duties. You balance on scaffolding, and are constantly working with equipment, not to mention tools and materials fall on a regular basis.

The United States Department of Labor issues regulations for workplace safety through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Responsible for setting the health and safety standards for employers, OSHA serves to protect employees through warning of dangers on the job. On construction sites, these warnings are either not enough, not implemented or go unrecognized.

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