Preventing illnesses in the workplace

A recent study by Harris and cited by EHS Today found that 81% of Americans have seen someone doing something gross in the workplace. The most common answer was someone wiping his or her runny nose on that person’s own hands or sleeves. The second most common was not covering one’s mouth when sneezing.

Workplaces where employees follow good hygiene practices bear a smaller chance of having sick workers making other people in the office ill.

“While workplaces are full of poor hygiene habits, their frequency tends to increase around cold and flu season,” said Dave Mesko, senior director of marketing for Cintas, a uniform company. “To reduce the spread of viruses and bacteria, businesses need to increase cleaning frequencies and encourage employees to practice proper hand hygiene to keep them from getting sick in the first place.”

Best practices for keeping illness at bay
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one of the many things managers can do to make sure people don’t get sick is to establish safety and health goals. For example, bringing in an expert to talk about the flu or having a nurse giving people the flu shot are both ways to reduce illness. Another way to help lower the number of sick days in the office is to make sure people know that taking a day off is all right in the first place. When people don’t use their sick leave, then they are working at a time when they are most vulnerable to giving workers illnesses.

Workers can do their part by reporting their illnesses to management, along with following best practices for keeping sickness out of the office. This may include wiping one’s runny nose on tissue paper that is thrown away, washing hands regularly and being sure to cover one’s mouth during a sneeze.

Safety and Health Magazine explained that people should sneeze into the crook of their elbows; to avoid getting germs onto one’s hands. This way if someone has to shake another person’s hand, germs won’t be passed on. Another rule of thumb that could be brought into an office is to isolate potentially sick people to a minimum distance of six feet away from other people. Additionally, it may be a good idea to have disinfecting wipes that can be used to clean desks of germs.

New injury need not include organic change under successive injury doctrine

Southwest Desert Images v. Industrial Commission, Court of Appeals, Division Two, Published Opinion, Filed 10/28/14.

In 2008, Slaven sustained an industrial injury to his low back. At that time, an MRI revealed a disc protrusion on the left side. However, at the independent medical examination (IME), the doctor noted that Slaven did not have any left-sided symptoms and, therefore, the left-sided disc protrusion was not related to the industrial injury. The claim closed per the IME in 2010 with a 2 percent permanent impairment.

Slaven injured his back again in 2012 while working for the same employer, who now had a new insurance carrier. Following the 2012 injury, however, he had pain which radiated down his left side and left leg. Slaven filed a petition to reopen his 2008 claim and, at the same time, also filed a new claim. Both the petition to reopen and the new claim were denied and, after litigation, the ALJ issued a decision denying the 2008 petition to reopen but found that the 2012 claim was compensable. The carrier in the 2012 injury appealed, arguing that the MRI was unchanged between the two injuries and there cannot be a new injury without evidence of an “organic” change.

At issue on appeal was application of the successive injury doctrine. The successive injury doctrine dictates that, if an injured worker files a petition to reopen and also files a claim for a new injury, and meets the criteria for both, then the carrier that is last in time is responsible for workers’ compensation benefits.

The Court of Appeals found that a new injury can occur even without an organic change. They noted that the ALJ resolved the conflicting testimony in favor of the doctor who believed the later industrial incident was a new injury, and it refused to disturb that finding. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the ALJ’s award finding that Slaven sustained a new compensable injury in 2012.

Carrier liable for prejudgment interest on total temporary benefits

Luna v. Industrial Commission, Court of Appeals, Division Two, Published Opinion, Filed 12/22/14.

In this case, the Court of Appeals again addressed the issue of interest. Luna sustained a compensable back injury which closed in 1999 and was subsequently reopened in 2009. The claim was closed in 2011 following an independent medical examination. Luna protested the closure, and formal hearings were held. In 2012, the ALJ ordered that the claim remain open and that Luna was entitled to benefits from 2009 until he was stationary.

After additional litigation following the ALJ’s decision, Luna was eventually paid benefits from 2011 through 2013. In addition to payment for temporary compensation benefits, Luna also sought interest. The ALJ denied the request for interest because Luna was receiving long-term disability payments between 2011 and 2013 from the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS), resulting in no delay of Luna’s monthly benefit payment.

The Court of Appeals applied the same test they used in Stenz. It found that there was an obligation to pay because the ALJ issued an award finding that Luna was entitled to temporary disability benefits. Further, temporary disability benefits are susceptible to exact mathematical computation because, per statute, temporary compensation is paid at 66⅔ percent of the injured worker’s average monthly wage. Finally, they found that the carrier was on notice when Luna protested the closure of his claim and the carrier could have continued to make payments at that time. Accordingly, they awarded interest back to the date Luna protested the closure of his claim.

Regarding the payment of long-term disability benefits, the court focused only on the fact that payments of workers’ compensation benefits were delayed. It stated that receipt of long-term disability benefits, which was the result of a separate agreement between Luna and ASRS and outside of the realm of workers’ compensation, had no impact on its determination.