Health Break | Published October 22, 2013 | Written by Susan Ososkie, MS, CRNP, NP-C, occupational health, Mount Nittany Physician Group

New rules dictate definition of ‘workplace injury’

After exiting your car in the parking lot of your workplace, you twist your ankle. You notice an odor in your cubicle and moments later you begin to cough uncontrollably. Your job requires you to use a computer for several hours a day and you develop carpal tunnel syndrome. You are a restaurant worker and develop a skin rash. Could these scenarios be considered work-related injuries?

Your employer requires you to use a respirator, but you have asthma and wonder if this is safe. You are a commercial driver with diabetes and high blood pressure. Can you continue to drive on your medication? How will the new department of transportation rules affect you? These are important questions that may have long-term consequences to your life, health and ability to work.

Americans spend half of their waking hours at work. In 2007, more than 5,000 fatal and 4 million nonfatal work-related injuries and illnesses were reported in private industry workplaces. About half of the nonfatal injuries resulted in time away from work due to recuperation, job transfer or job restriction. It has been estimated that the total economic costs related to occupational illness and injury in the U.S. match those of cancer and almost those of heart disease.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, controlling occupational injuries, illness and related expenditures should be a top priority for companies. Also, selecting a qualified health care professional to participate in workplace health and safety activities is a vital step in this process.

Identifying whether an injury is truly work-related is a case in point. Experiencing knee pain on the job does not necessarily mean the pain is work-related. Work-related injuries are injuries that occur on the job and as a direct result of job-related duties. Prompt evaluation by a provider experienced in evaluation of work injuries is invaluable in determining the origin of injury based on mechanism, history and predisposing factors; as well as determining treatment, need for specialty care and trajectory for recovery. Occupational providers are also able to work with companies in designing an appropriate duty assignment for an injured worker.

Determination of medical fitness for commercial drivers is also an area of concern for a large segment of the workforce. The new DOT rules are in effect. Under the new rules, only medical providers certified under the Federal Motor Carriers Association will be able to certify drivers. The rules under the new system are much more rigorous and will require closer supervision of many health related conditions.

Employers are becoming more invested in ensuring the health and safety of their employees. To learn more about how to keep your employees well, visit mountnittany.org.

Susan Ososkie is a certified registered nurse practitioner at Mount Nittany Physician Group Occupational Health. The occupational health professionals at Mount Nittany Physician Group are certified in CDL evaluations, diagnostic testing, and surveillance for respirator users, hearing conservation programs, evaluation, treatment and coordination of specialty care for work-related injuries, as well as developing wellness initiatives for companies and their employees.

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