As the start of the school year gets nearer, much of the focus has been on when and how the schools should open in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the related issues will be the rights of teachers and custodial workers in these schools. We’ve written previously about teachers and workers’ compensation and also on the general rights of all workers to claim benefits if they contract COVID-19.
This article focuses on custodial workers who perform a number of tasks which can cause injury due to an accident or an occupational illness due to the nature of the work and exposure to dangerous substances.
The data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that nearly 2.4 Million people nationwide work in the building custodial services job sector. Under normal circumstances (prior to the pandemic), that number was expected to rise in 2020 to close to 2.6 million custodial workers. While many of these workers work for other employers, a sizeable percentage of custodial work for local public and private school and school districts. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, custodial workers will likely be asked to do a lot more work to help ensure the schools are disinfected and other precautionary steps are taken to help protect the children and the teachers.
Custodial workers also work in the follow places, in addition to the schools:
- Hotels and motels
- Day care centers
- Food service businesses
- Private and public buildings
According to the CDC, common duties of custodial workers include:
- Sweeping and mopping floors
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
- Moving desks, tables, furniture, tools and equipment in order to reach the areas the areas they need to clean
- Removing garbage and trash
What types of injuries do custodial workers suffer?
Janitors and other cleaning workers can suffer many different types of workplace injuries which can cause them to lose time from work – on a temporary or on a permanent basis. Some more common custodial worker injuries include:
- Slips and falls
- Repetitive stress injuries
- Electric shock injuries
- Lifting and pulling injuries
What types of occupation illnesses do custodial workers suffer?
Custodial workers can suffer injuries or illnesses because they regularly work with dangerous chemicals. These hazardous substances can damage the workers’ skin if they spill onto the worker. The substances can damage the worker’s lungs and respiratory system if he/she inhales the dangerous pathogens.
Due to the need to be extra-cautious due to the desire to open schools, custodial workers are much more likely to be exposed to these dangerous substances on a daily and weekly basis. Workers who develop COVID-19 may or may not have the right to seek North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation benefits. As noted in previous articles, if any worker becomes sick with COVID-19 in Virginia, they will have an uphill battle to prove their case.
In North Carolina, there would currently be a similar uphill battle, although as of this writing in August of 2020, a Bill that would give essential workers a presumption of Workers Comp coverage if they became ill from COVID-19 is still under consideration. As of now, it has not been passed into law.
Custodial Workers should, however, have a direct right to seek state workers’ compensation benefits if they became ill due to the spilling or the inhalation of dangerous disinfectants and other chemical toxin – or due to any work they perform to help make the schools safe.
What types of injuries do custodial workers suffer?
Janitors and cleaning workers may suffer the following injuries
- Musculoskeletal injuries including muscle tears, spine injuries, back and neck injuries, sprains, and strains
- Skin damage including allergies, pigmentation loss, rashes, and burns
- Traumatic brain injuries and concussions if they fall
- Respiratory illnesses including breathing injuries, asthma, and loss of physical stamina
- Hearing loss due to loud equipment such as vacuum cleaners and polishers
- Difficulty due to unusual work shifts such as having to work when the schools are not in session
- Blood pathogen diseases such as Hepatitis B which can damage the liver
- Back and spine pain due to having to stand and bend for long stretches of time
In addition to physical injuries, many workers may suffer psychological harm due to the stress of their job. This emotional injury is only likely to increase in severity and in the number of custodial workers who are affected – as pressure on custodial workers to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 increases.
Injured custodial workers may need to treat with a range of healthcare providers including:
- Emergency room care
- Pain management doctors
- Infectious disease specialists
- Physical therapists
- Occupational therapists
- Psychologists and Psychiatrists
- Other doctors and therapists based on the type of injury or occupational illness
If COVID-19 ends up being covered, workers may also need long-term hospital care.
What steps can employers take to help reduce injuries to custodial workers?
To help reduce the risk of injury and illness, employers (in North Carolina and Virginia) should consider using the following procedures to help custodial workers:
- Giving the custodial workers the personal protective equipment they need to do their jobs such as quality face coverings, gloves, hand sanitizers, and other necessary health protective devise
- Educating janitors and other custodial workers on how to address workplace hazards – especially during the rush and necessity to keep schools safe during the current pandemic
- Providing non-slip shoes for their employees
- Drafting and creating procedures for properly cleaning up spills – including using warnings to alert anyone that the area is slippery and may contain dangerous chemicals
- Helping to reduce the risk of falls in every way possible
- Using quality tools and equipment to minimize the need for custodial workers to carry and lift items that are heavy
- Providing for the proper tools and equipment to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries
- Providing proper rest breaks for the workers
- Reviewing the shift schedules of the custodial workers to reduce the risk of having workers do their jobs while they’re tired or because they haven’t had sufficient time to adjust to off-hour schedules.
North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for injuries workers in all job sectors for more than 31 years. He fights to show you’ve suffered a compensable workplace injury or workplace illnesses. He fights to ensure you return to work when you’re healthy and not before then. He understands the arguments insurance companies make to try to defeat your claim – and he is ready with responses to unwarranted arguments. If you were hurt on the job, including hurt due to helping a school or company, prepare to return to operations during the pandemic, call North Carolina and Virginia lawyer Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or fill out my online contact form to schedule an appointment with an experienced work injury attorney.