With warmer weather and longer days, employers now have the opportunity to focus on outdoor projects that have fallen dormant for several months. However, while warmer weather offers employers a chance to get outside and work, moving that work outside can present some hazards to employees that are often overlooked. Whether your workplace is a saw mill, a factory, or an office, the natural inhabitants of your environment who are also awakening at this time of year can pose a threat to your employees. Employers should spend time identifying these potential threats and making to minimize the risks that they present.
Historically, the most common pest-related injuries to occur at the workplace have arisen from insects and snakes. Bees, ticks, and venomous snakes have made many appearances in workers’ compensation cases across America. On some rare occasions, however, bears, raccoons, rats, and even bats have been the culprits that injure employees. When these animals attack, coverage of the resulting injury is most often judged under the standard of whether the work environment created an increased risk to the employee of being injured. The factors that most often control the question of coverage under existing workers’ compensation insurance are the nature of the employee’s occupation and the condition of the workplace.
Certain occupations are necessarily more prone to injuries from insects and animals. Employees who work outside or who perform maintenance duties in areas known to be populated by biting insects and reptiles can be reasonably expected to receive insect and reptile bites in the course of their employment. Such injuries are almost always covered by workers’ compensation because they are deemed to be a foreseeable risk of employment. This rationale has led to coverage of Lyme’s Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, anaphylactic shock, and venom reactions in many jurisdictions.
However, in instances where employees are not expected to encounter the hazards of wildlife in their occupations, courts have often examined the conditions of the workplace in determining compensability. Workplaces that are dirty or have known infestations create an increased risk of injury. Some courts, however, have found that workplaces where vermin are not usually found cannot generate a reasonable expectation of injury. One court has even gone so far as to find that employees are less likely than the general public to be injured by vermin when the employer takes regular measures to exterminate pests.
When considering these issues, employers should heed two simple pieces of advice. First, if you know of any pests in your workplace, call in a professional exterminator. Taking measures to protect your workplace from pests can protect your employees from injuries and illness which certainly can sap productivity. Second, if your employees must face the hazards of known pests, be prepared to handle the resulting injuries. Ensure that you have well-stocked, accessible first-aid supplies. Advise employees to be aware of potential allergens that might trigger an attack. Also make sure your employees know the proper procedures to undertake if they were to be the victim of a sting or bite. Enabling quick and effective medical attention can help contain costs and lost production.
James Heslep is a Member of Steptoe & Johnson, PLLC. He focuses his practice in the defense of workplace injuries and illnesses and allegations of workplace safety violations. He is a regular presenter at regional and national seminars on workers’ compensation issues and serves as an Adjunct Faculty Member to the Business Department of Fairmont State University, where he teaches Employment Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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