Considerable concern exists about the increasing level of workplace hazards that paramedics and EMTs in California and across the country face every day. If you work in this industry, you will likely know of the recent incident in which a patient assaulted two EMTs. The patient, who has a mental illness history, sprayed chemicals into the eyes of one EMT and stabbed the other one. This gave rise to a call by emergency response workers for safer workplaces.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recently reported the result of a study that showed eight to nine paramedics and EMTs in every 100 receive hospital treatment for work-related injuries — some involving assaults. In comparison, the rate for all other occupations is two out of 100.
Findings of the study
EMTs and paramedics have physically demanding jobs that expose them to combative and aggressive patients and harmful substances on every shift. The result of the study indicated the following:
- Musculoskeletal injuries: Physical activities like lifting patients, kneeling and bending cause most of the injuries, with a significant percentage of back sprains and injuries reported.
- Harmful substances: Number two on the list of frequent injuries that might send you to a hospital involves harmful substances, such as bodily fluids and blood.
- Assaults: EMTs and paramedics are at least 22 times more likely to suffer assaults on duty. Although the percentage of reported assault injuries seems low, authorities believe assault-related injuries often go unreported.
- Underreporting: NIOSH says the reason for underreporting of assault injuries is the fact that many of these workers accept the dangers of their professions and see assaults as par for the course in their jobs along with cultural and organizational pressure to accept it as such.
Authorities note that the assault risks in this industry are not easily fixable because of the lack of data on which to base potential solutions. An example is the bulletproof vests issued to EMTs and paramedics in another state without reliable data as a basis for the decision. It might protect workers, but the vests pose significant limitations in situations such as pulling victims out of wrecks at accident scenes. Some say agencies should utilize up-to-date technology to protect emergency workers.
Workers’ compensation rights
California workers’ compensation is a no-fault program that provides benefits to cover medical expenses and lost wages, regardless of who caused the injuries. However, in some circumstances, when independent third parties cause injuries to EMTs or paramedics, there might be grounds for civil lawsuits. If you want advice or help to obtain financial relief after a workplace accident, an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can provide the necessary support, guidance and advocacy.