Frequently Asked Questions - What are Common Industrial Accidents and Serious Occupational Injuries
An occupational injury is physical or mental injury caused by a workplace accident. The causes of injury at work are extremely diverse - overexertion, lifting, being struck by people or objects, repetitive trauma, exposure to extreme temperatures, noises, chemical compounds, diseases, etc. Any cause of injury you can imagine (and probably more than a few that you can’t) has resulted in work place injuries.
Accidents in Florida that result in lost time from work come in a variety of different types. According to the most recent Division of Workers’ Compensation annual report, more than 50 % of lost time cases are categorized as either a “strain” or “contusion”. While these may sound like minor diagnoses, they are serious enough for workers to miss time from work. Since many people live paycheck to paycheck and do not have enough savings to cover even a small emergency, these strains and contusions that take people out of work and interrupt their regular finances can be life changing. Fractures and lacerations taken together are only a little over 10% of lost time injuries. Crushing, dislocation, punctures, burns, hernias and inflammation type injuries altogether amount to less than 10% of injuries. Multiple physical injuries and all other injuries account for the remaining approximately 25-30% of all lost-time injuries.
On the job accidents are also categorized by the body part affected. Approximately 30% of injuries are to the upper extremities or arms and another 25% are to the lower extremity or legs. Injuries to the back and neck compromise about 15% of lost-time accidents, while another 5% are head injuries. The remaining approximately 25% are injuries to the trunk or multiple body part injuries.
Any workers’ compensation attorney in Florida is going to see certain workplace injuries with recurring regularity. One frequent injury are spinal injuries suffered by certified nursing assistants and other health care providers. It is not unusual for people involved in health care to sustain a serious strain, sprain or even herniated disc while they are transferring or otherwise caring for patients. Patients are often very heavy and trying to move them in or out of bed often leads to injury. Two of the health care jobs most likely to sustain injuries are those that work with psychiatric patients and those whose patients are suffering from dementia related illnesses like Alzheimer’s. These people are often violent and unpredictable. The same is true for teachers and paraprofessionals who work with emotionally and mentally handicapped individuals. Sadly, violent attacks at the workplace are not limited to just the psychiatrically and emotionally challenged individuals. Every day in Florida, coworkers at all types of businesses will get into physical altercations resulting in injury serious enough for medical attention. While the victim of an assault may very well have a tort or personal injury claim against the person who assaulted him, he also has a workers’ comp claim assuming he was not the aggressor, or instigator of the altercation.
Of course, not all workplace accidents involve as much drama as a physical assault. Often the mechanism of injury is something that occurs over time and is imperceptible to the observer. Common repetitive type injuries that result from repetitive use of the hands or arms include carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome and epicondylitis (also known as tennis elbow). Newly hired employees who do a lot of repetitive gripping or typing, repetitive lifting over a couple of pounds or using vibratory power tools are especially prone to repetitive trauma injuries like this.
Another common occupational injury that occurs over time, sometimes decades, is hearing loss. Recent studies suggest that as much as 15% of workers comp injuries involve hearing loss. Because of the high incidence of this type of injuries, many employers provide hearing protection and purchase tools and machines that make less noise than their predecessors.
One small item that can do a lot of damage at work is the hypodermic needle. Accidental needle sticks affect health care workers, agricultural workers and veterinary workers. Because of the diseases and other biologics involved, a small stick can have very serious consequences such as bacterial and fungal infections and contagious disease transmission.
Of course you don’t have to be stuck by a needle to be exposed to an occupational disease. Certain people, because of the nature of their work, are exposed to illnesses and diseases more often than the general public. A hospital worker is more prone to develop a staph infection than somebody who works in an office setting. A paramedic or law enforcement officer is more likely to be exposed to blood borne pathogens than a server in a restaurant. The job itself and its particular hazards often define whether an illness or condition is treated as work related or not. Even everyday conditions like high blood pressure or hypertension can be considered as work related, if you are in certain designated categories like law enforcement or fire fighting.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of injuries on the job. For 2017 we experienced approximately 2.8 million non-fatal reported injuries, which amounts to about 3% of the full-time workforce. Of those 2.8 million accidents, approximately one third resulted in days away from work. Perhaps not surprisingly, the older the injured worker suffering the workplace injury, the more time that worker normally loses from work. Older people heal more slowly than younger people. The cause of these various types of injuries is first and foremost overexertion and bodily reaction. This accounts for approximately one third of work place injuries. Accidental falls, slips, trips are a little more than a quarter of the overall cause of injuries, while contact with objects of equipment a little less than a quarter. Violence and other injuries by people or animals are between five and ten per cent of injury causes. The same is true for transportation incidents, such as motor vehicle accidents.
The types of injuries that result in the most missed median days from work are tendonitis, fractures and carpal tunnel syndrome. All of those injuries have median lost time from work of around a month. The injuries with the least amount of missed time from are bruises, burns, lacerations and puncture injuries. These type of injuries usually result in less than a week of missed work.
Every day in the United States, an average of 15 people die from workplace injuries. Another 200 are admitted to the hospital every day. The number that are treated and released is obviously much higher. The top three most fatally dangerous industry sectors are (1) construction (2) transportation & warehousing and (3) agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. Everybody knows that being a law enforcement officer means possible death every day, but roofers are almost twice as likely to be fatally injured at work as cops. Fishers and loggers have the most dangerous jobs of all. A commercial fisherman is eight times more likely not to survive the work day than a police officer is.
Of course, the above is merely a brief summary of workplace injuries covered under Florida law. The mechanism of injury range in size from huge industrial cranes to microscopic organisms. Every part of the body can be injured, and the severity of injury can run the gamut from a paper cut to death. Sometimes an injury starts small, like a minor cut, and through complications like infection become much more serious. Certain types of jobs are more inherently dangerous than others, but there is no work that doesn’t have some risk. One thing is true of all of these injuries though - once you have identified a workplace injury, your time to act is limited. You have limited time to tell your employer, a limited opportunity for effective medical treatment, and a limited time to explore your legal options. Whatever accident, injury or illness you experience because of work, take action immediately.