Although many Americans don’t think of the healthcare field as dangerous, it most certainly is. Medical professionals work some of the most dangerous jobs in the country simply because of the number of hazards they are exposed to every day, such as radiation, violence, heavy lifting without assistance, and infectious disease. Some of the most serious infectious diseases are bloodborne, which is why the Occupational Safety & Health Administration created the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard.
What Are Bloodborne Pathogens?
According to the Centers For Disease Control, around 5.5 million healthcare workers are at risk of being exposed to bloodborne pathogens due to their job every single day.
A pathogen is something that can cause a disease, like bacteria or a virus. If that pathogen is found in the blood, it is considered bloodborne. A few examples include:
- Hepatitis A, B, & C
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- E. Coli
- West Nile Virus
- Chagas Disease
These diseases can cause any number of symptoms in patients such as fever, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fatigue, and can even result in changes to a patient’s mental state. Permanent damage can be done to vital organs and unfortunately, many of the diseases are not yet curable. This is why it is extremely important that medical professionals be protected from exposure.
According to OSHA, employers are responsible for the following:
- Research and create a control plan: Plans should be provided to employees in writing and should provide a way to eliminate or minimize occupational exposure.
- Review the control plan every year: Changes in the workplace can easily lead to increased exposure. It is important to review the plan every year if not more often.
- Encourage universal precautions: Employees should handle every single sample as though they know it does, in fact, contain a bloodborne pathogen.
- Use engineering controls: This means that any devices that come into contact with blood should be properly disposed of in enclosed containers.
- Provide all employees with protective gear: This should include gowns, gloves, face masks, and eye protection.
- If available, provide vaccines: If a vaccine exists for one of the pathogens an employee may be exposed to, provide them with the option of getting it.
- Use appropriate labels and signs on all potentially hazardous materials.
- Maintain worker medical records and provide testing / follow-ups for all workers who have been exposed.
Who Will Pay For Testing Or Treatment?
If an employee is exposed to a bloodborne pathogen, they have the right to file for workers’ compensation which should provide coverage for any testing or medical treatments that they might need.
What If The Exposure Was My Fault?
It doesn’t matter if a mistake you made led to your exposure. Under workers’ compensation, accidents and illnesses are covered regardless of who was at fault with a few exceptions. Typically, a denial should only be given if the workers was outside of the realm of their job or if they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the exposure.
I Wasn’t Under The Influence But My Claim Was Denied
While workers’ compensation claims should only be denied for the above reasons, this frequently isn’t the case. Our clients have received denial letters for a wide variety of reasons, such as the initial forms were filled out incorrectly, their employer is contesting the claim, or the insurance company believes their illness wasn’t the result of
Third-Party Lawsuits Filed By Healthcare Workers
There are additional ways in which many healthcare workers are able to obtain compensation. One of the options that is frequently available is a third-party lawsuit. This claim is made against the individual or group whose negligent actions resulted in an exposure to a pathogen.
The party responsible does not even need to be present at the time of the exposure. For example, if the manufacturer of a needle creates a cover that is defective and allows a medical professional to be pricked even if using it in an approved manner, they may be held liable and named as the defendant in a defective product lawsuit. That is because they have a responsibility to keep the consumers of their product reasonably safe from harm.
The types of compensation that can be provided with a settlement or successful verdict include coverage for medical bills, lost earnings, physical trauma, and emotional distress.
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