You may think that workers' compensation only covers highly physical jobs like construction work, but many sectors provide this coverage. In fact, only a few exemptions to workers' compensation exist, such as volunteers, business owners, and independent contractors.
If you are starting a career in a dental office, you need to be aware of work-related injuries and illnesses and how to deal with them. Workers' compensation shouldn't be denied if you are injured on the job. Here are three work-related injuries that can happen at dental practices.
1. Sharps-Related Injury
Even when you are careful, sometimes you can get a needle-stick injury or a cut by a scalpel blade. You can reduce the risk of this type of injury by:
- Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, scrubs, and masks
- Keeping the caps on needles when not in use for anesthetic injections
- Facing the sharp ends of needles and scalpel blades toward walls and setting them further back on counters so they aren't accidentally bumped into
- Using hemostats to remove and replace scalpel blades on handles instead of using your hands to pull them off
- Disposing of blades immediately after use
- Placing any sharp items in designated sharps bins
Although your sharps-related injury may be small, the real issue is the risk of blood-borne pathogens entering broken skin. Blood-borne pathogens can cause infectious diseases such as Hepatitis, Tetanus, and HIV.
OSHA requires employers to offer employees who have a high chance of encountering blood a Hepatitis B vaccination free of charge. If your employer refuses to cover the cost of the vaccine, you may need to speak with a lawyer. Keep in mind that if you do decide to forgo the vaccine, your employer still needs to have your signature and a written record that you denied the offer.
Should you get a sharps-related injury, be sure to immediately wash the broken skin with soap and water. You should report your injury to your employer right away so they can fill out an incident report and start any necessary steps for workers' compensation. If you conceal the injury and develop a disease, it will be harder to prove that you need compensation for a work-related injury.
2. Repetitive Strain Injuries
When you use high-speed handpieces and burs, these tools can vibrate rapidly and put strain on your hands and arms. Even just gripping metal instruments, like a dental explorer, can put strain on your hands over time if you repeat the same motions.
Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) are incredibly common and can be seen in just about any sector where you repeat a motion day in and day out. If you have developed an RSI, like carpal tunnel syndrome, be sure to reach out to your employer as soon as you can to get it documented.
Do everything in your power to relieve the RSI before it becomes a serious problem. Take adequate breaks and stretch out your muscles. If your RSI causes severe pain, you may need to take a leave of absence to heal, so you'll need the help of workers' comp to make sure that you can get the care that you need and paid time off work to do so.
3. Respiratory Injury
Silica is a mineral that can be used in the dental office to grind and polish casts and appliances. And it can be used in some dental mixing powders. If you use silica in the office, it's vital that you wear a respirator mask or that you use an enclosed dust collecting system.
If you don't have protection and inhale silica, it can damage your lungs over the years. Silicosis is a condition that can cause inflammation, scar tissue, and even cancer. Make sure you wear your PPE and work in an environment with adequate ventilation.
If you do have a respiratory injury, you need to prove that it was work-related. For example, if you smoke, it can be harder to prove that the respiratory illness was caused by silica.
Contact Palmetto Injury Lawyers for more in-depth information on workers' compensation and your rights as an employee.