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Stress, Fatigue Put Essential Workers at Risk of Injury

By David Boehrer | Posted on June 05, 2020

Workers exposed to prolonged job stress and fatigue from dangerous tasks, long hours, and lack of sleep face higher injury risks on the job. Essential workers in frontline industries are particularly vulnerable to job-related injuries.

High Injury Risks for Essential Workers

Many jobs place stringent physical and emotional demands on workers, but workers in certain jobs face higher injury risks because of them. Workers deemed as essential workers by federal and state officials due to the coronavirus pandemic are much more likely to suffer serious or even life-threatening injuries on the job.

Essential workers are employed in a variety of jobs that protect public health and safety. The federal government has labeled six types of employment as frontline industries necessary for American public health and safety during the COVID-19 crisis. Frontline industries include:

  • Healthcare
  • Public Transportation
  • Trucking, Warehouse, and Postal Services
  • Grocery, Convenience, and Drug Stores
  • Childcare and Social Services
  • Public Cleaning Services

Since all of these industries provide essential public services, workers in any of these frontline industries may be exposed to prolonged job stress and fatigue from hazardous job conditions, long work hours or shift work, and lack of adequate sleep. While healthcare workers face high risks of exposure to coronavirus, public transportation workers may be required to work longer hours and/or different shifts. Trucking, warehouse, and postal workers may face a change in normal hours that throw them into a night shift creating sleep deprivation and related sleep problems.

The physical and emotional demands on workers in frontline industries put them at a higher risk of job-related accidents and injuries commonly seen by workers comp lawyers. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been a rise in work-related injury claims handled by workers comp lawyers across the country.

Frontline Healthcare Workers

Although all essential workers face higher injury risks, healthcare workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic may face the greatest risks. Hospital workers, physicians, nurses, and medical technicians commonly face high rates of stress and fatigue as a part of their normal jobs, but the coronavirus pandemic has doubled, even tripled, those rates due to extremely hazardous working conditions.

Healthcare workers are under constant stress from possible COVID-19 exposure and infection while treating coronavirus patients. Workers are not only worried about their own safety, but the safety of their families who may be exposed from close living conditions. To keep up with public safety demands and treatment of ill and dying coronavirus patients, most healthcare workers are working longer hours, night shifts, and exhausting amounts of overtime. Health care workers who are working on the frontlines may experience prolonged, high-stress levels due to the following conditions:

  • Longer hours and extra shifts
  • Lack of personal protection equipment (PPE)
  • Physical strain of protective equipment (exhaustion, heat, dehydration)
  • Constant vigilance regarding infection control procedures
  • Physical isolation and quarantine
  • Safety concerns for family members

While many essential workers are feeling the effects of stress and fatigue, healthcare workers face emotional fears of contracting COVID-19 from infected patients. According to Kaiser Health News, at least 600 frontline health care workers have died from COVID-19. Deaths include doctors, nurses, paramedics, hospital technicians, hospital administrators, hospital janitors, and nursing home workers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed only 368 COVID-19 deaths among health care workers, but they acknowledge that these numbers are likely very low, because the CDC does not identify individuals.

Workers Compensation Claims and Lawsuits

Although workers comp lawyers are seeing a rise in COVID-19 lawsuits, there may be certain restrictions on workers’ compensation claims and benefits. While workers’ compensation laws provide compensation for “occupational diseases” that arise out of and in the course of employment, many state statutes exclude “ordinary diseases of life” such as the flu or common cold, and possibly the coronavirus.

In many cases, work-related injuries due to coronavirus may be covered by workers’ compensation insurance, if it can be defined as an occupational illness or injury. To qualify for an occupational illness or injury compensable under workers compensation: (1) The illness or injury must arise out of the normal scope of a person’s employment; and (2) The illness or injury must be caused by conditions directly related to a person’s specific job duties.

According to recent workers’ compensation claim statistics, healthcare workers, and first responders who work directly with coronavirus patients are more likely to be approved for benefits under an occupational illness or injury. Although every state workers’ compensation case is judged on individual circumstances, a workers’ comp lawyer can help to ensure payable benefits by gathering important documents required by the court to prove occupation illness or injury. According to state laws, occupational illness or injury is determined more on facts related to how a worker contracted the illness or injury, rather than facts about the specific illness.

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