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Workplace safety in hospitals: What happens if I am cut by a contaminated needle?

The job of a physician, nurse, or other medical professional may seem like a cautious choice. Not only is this a profession with job security and a good compensation package, but the working environment is generally safe, right? Surprisingly, a job in the healthcare industry can come with more risks than one in construction.

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that hospitals are one of the most dangerous places to work. Hundreds of thousands of people who work within hospitals suffer from work related injury and illness every year. In fact, safety measures within the construction and manufacturing industries have greatly reduced the rate of injuries in these fields. Unfortunately, the same is not true in medicine. As a result, the rate of injury and illness for those who work in medicine has increased at a greater rate compared to those in construction and manufacturing.

What types of injuries are common within the healthcare industry?

Injuries can include:

  • Back injuries. There is often a need to lift and shift patients.
  • Injury from violence. Patients may experience violent outbursts and healthcare professionals can find themselves the target.
  • Contagious illness. There is also the potential for exposure and contraction of a contagious illness ranging from the flu to blood borne pathogens such as hepatitis and HIV.

Other injuries that result from any unsafe environment are also common. This can include slipping on a spill that was not properly cleaned or tripping on a rug or equipment.

Do these injuries qualify for workers’ compensation benefits?

Those who suffer a work-related injury or illness often qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. The same holds true in the healthcare profession. This industry has unique safety standards because of the hazards that are present within the various specialities. This can include the need to protect oneself from dangerous radiation during certain procedures or to dispose of waste carefully as it can include contaminated sharps.

In a recent example, a sharp needle punctured a medical assistant while the assistant was disposing of medical waste left by a dermatologist. The dermatologist completed a procedure after office hours and left the waste in the room, expecting the assistant to know that it contained hazardous material. The assistant later developed a dangerous hepatitis B infection from the injury. The accident led to a complaint and investigation by OSHA.

Because the hazardous materials were negligently left without further instruction to the assistant, OSHA found the dermatologist in violation of accepted safety standards. OSHA fined the employer, and the assistant is likely eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

This is just one example of the many injuries or illnesses that are common among those who work in this profession. Anyone who finds themselves ill or injured because of a workplace accident or exposure in a healthcare setting should immediately notify their supervisor to document the accident or exposure and discuss the situation with legal counsel. An attorney experienced in workers’ comp law can review your situation, explain your options, and help to better ensure you get the benefits you deserve.

  • AABA