It’s a common pattern. A worker at a large factory suffers an on-the-job injury. He tells his supervisor who then sends him to the plant nurse. Many big factories have an on-site nurse or first-aid department. So, the hurting worker goes to first aid. Often, the hurting worker will return to the plant nurse several times over the course of days, weeks and months. Yet, the company does little or nothing to help its employee. Does the company send its hurt worker to a doctor? No. Does the company report the injury to its workers’ compensation carrier? No.
The injured employee continues to try and work. He or she continues to hurt. Eventually, one of two things usually occurs. Some injured workers simply give up. These employees seek outside medical care through private payment or private insurance. Other injured workers keep trying to work until the injury worsens severely. At that point, the injured worker cannot work. Because the plant nurse did not properly report the accident or injury, it may also be too late for workers’ compensation benefits. It’s a bad scenario for the injured worker.
Over the course of two decades, I’ve represented countless workers facing hurdles wrongly and needlessly created by the plant nurse. How does the plant nurse or first-aid department prevent needed medical care and workers’ compensation benefits? Here are a few ways a plant nurse can harm injured workers:
- Withholding Care. Take an Advil / Tylenol and report back to your work station. That’s a common occurrence. Maybe that’s all the employee needs. But, many injuries need more care.
- Failing to Refer. I recently completed a case where the worker repeatedly sought first aid for a back injury. Yet, the plant nurse would not refer the worker for much needed orthopedic treatment. Eventually, the injured worker called me for advice. By then, the injury had worsened to the point of being permanent.
- Dismissing Symptoms. I’ve seen many plant first-aid notes which “conveniently” omit key symptoms. For example, a worker suffers a severe back injury which produces pain radiating down the leg. Yet, the plant nurse ignores the reported radiating pain and simply lists the condition as a back strain. Because of that, the worker does not get the immediate care he or she might need.
- Incorrectly Reporting History. Here is a recent example. A worker suffered an accident causing severe shoulder injury. The worker goes to the plant nurse. The nurse notes the problems but conveniently fails to mention the accident. So, it appears as if the worker simply reported ongoing shoulder pain. On subsequent visits, the plant nurse lists the worker’s history as “his usual shoulder pain.” When the records are reviewed, it appears as if the worker had no accident, but instead, pre-existing shoulder pain.
Want to read more? A public health website previously published an article discussing an OSHA citation one company received due to inappropriate medical care. That article is titled “Medical Malpractice at Pilgrim’s Pride . . . the Poultry Company?” According to the OSHA citation received by Pilgrim’s Pride:
The employer failed to make timely appropriate medical referrals for employees with injuries related to chronic and acute exposures and incidents, heavy lifting and persistent and continuous pain in the upper extremities to prevent the development and/or minimize the severity of musculoskeletal disorders.
Am I surprised that Pilgrim’s Pride received an OSHA citation related to its plant medical department? No. Absolutely not. I’ve represented multiple Pilgrim’s Pride employees who suffered work-related injuries. I’ve represented many production / assembly line employees in the poultry industry as well as other industries. This work is hard. Many employees suffer injuries. Many plants fail to report or treat those injuries.
This type of behavior is certainly not limited to the poultry industry. It is much more wide-spread. At a manufacturing facility in nearby Athens many injured workers face problems because the plant first-aid department fails to provide treatment AND because the plant itself fails to report problems to its own corporate headquarters. Because of those corporate actions, I’ve had to sue the facility several times for injured workers in cases that should have settled.
After an accident, the vast majority of employees hope their injury is minor and temporary. They want to keep working. They do not want to spend their time in doctors’ offices. Some companies take advantage of that desire. When an injury is later determined to be serious, it is often too late for workers’ compensation benefits. Working men and women deserve better. They deserve a plant first-aid department that will properly record accidents, properly report injuries, and properly provide medical care / referrals.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we specialize in personal injury claims. Many of these claims involve workers’ compensation benefits. We have tried workers’ compensation cases to verdict in courts across Alabama. Our trial experience provides a unique perspective in these cases. If you have questions, give us a call. Consultations are always free and confidential.