Fields With High Risk Factors
While any unexpected contact with a biological agent could cause an infectious disease, employees in certain work environments are at a heightened risk:
Healthcare workers are at the highest risk of infectious disease since they are so regularly working in close proximity with injured and ill patients. There are a variety of ways these workers can be exposed to infectious agents. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified the following three primary routes for infectious disease transmission in US healthcare workplaces:
- Droplets – When someone with an infectious disease coughs, sneezes, or talks, droplets filled with infectious agents may be released. If these droplets come into contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth, you could contract that person’s infectious disease. Diseases commonly spread by droplets include influenza and whooping cough.
- Airborne Transmission – Some infectious diseases (like tuberculosis or measles) are capable of being transmitted through small particles or droplets which travel through the air. If someone susceptible to the disease inhales these particles or droplets, it could cause an infection in the respiratory tract.
- Contact – Infectious diseases can be caused by either direct or indirect contact with an infected individual. Direct contact occurs when physical contact is made with an infected person and the infection is transmitted to someone susceptible to the disease. Indirect contact involves contact with infected items, such as a doorknob or bed rail which was touched by an infected person. Staph infection (MRSA) is a common example.
Regardless of how you contracted your disease, you’re entitled to financial compensation as long as it is work-related and has required you to miss days from work.
Workplace Hazards Specific To Healthcare
Healthcare facilities have several industry-specific hazards which put employees at risk of contracting an infectious disease:
- Exposure to blood and bodily fluids
- Contact with infected needles
- Direct and indirect contact with infected patients
- Airborne biological hazards
Laboratory workers are regularly exposed to unique biological hazards and bloodborne pathogens in the workplace, which could cause infectious diseases. This could occur due to contact with:
- Blood and body fluids
- Culture specimens
- Body tissue and cadavers
- Laboratory animals
- Other workers
Sanitation and refuse workers are constantly at risk of coming into contact with hazardous and infectious materials. According to the World Health Organization, 15% of healthcare waste contains hazardous material which could be infectious, toxic, or radioactive. When sanitation workers are handling trash which contains infectious waste, they may be pricked by an infected needle or come into direct contact with a bloodborne pathogen or infectious agent.
Common Work-Related Infectious Diseases
Remember that while some professions are at a higher risk for infectious diseases, you can become infected in any environment where an infected person is present. All that is required is some form of direct or indirect contact with the infected individual or with infectious agents.
Work-related infectious diseases which frequently force employees to miss work include:
- MRSA (Staph infection)
- Zoonoses (diseases spread by animals)
These are just a few of the most common infectious diseases, but any occupational illness is eligible for workers’ compensation, as long as it was directly caused by your work environment.
How Can I Make Sure I Get My Benefits?
When applying for workers’ compensation, it’s important to be prepared for any roadblocks you may encounter. It’s not uncommon for employees with serious work-related health problems to struggle to receive their benefits. Insurance companies frequently find reasons to deny claims in order to boost their profits, at the expense of American workers who truly need financial assistance while out of work.
Claims for infectious diseases and other occupational illnesses are often more complex than claims for serious injuries incurred in workplace accidents. The New York Workers’ Compensation Board requires you to meet strict criteria, and insurance companies and employers may argue that your disease was contracted outside of work or is not severe enough to prevent you from returning.
In order to give yourself the best chance to receive the full compensation you’re entitled to in a timely manner, it’s usually necessary to be represented by an experienced and respected occupational illness lawyer. The right lawyer can make the process much easier for you by helping you gather everything you need for a claim and dealing with the insurance companies on your behalf. In some instances, you may also be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit for your disease, which an injury lawyer can also assist you with.
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