A Complete Guide to Workplace Injury: Types, Rights, and More - Shegerian Law

Workplace safety is a fundamental right of employees like yourself: to be free from danger while diligently making a living.

Yet, getting injured at work remains a common risk today. Many employers overlook this problem, leaving employees vulnerable to preventable workplace injury. There were 2.8 billion nonfatal incidents in 2022 alone. Those are just the employer-reported cases in private industries, yet they already underscore the pressing need for proactive measures to mitigate hazards.

It’s easy to take safety for granted and assume that accidents only happen to others, but the sobering truth is that no one is immune to them. However, you can learn about workplace injury prevention to minimize risk.

The Most Common Types of Injuries in the Workplace

Familiarize yourself with the most common injuries in the workplace so you can advocate for measures to address hazards and create a safer working environment for you and your colleagues.

1. Slips and falls

Slips and falls are among the most prevalent workplace injuries, accounting for 33% of nonfatal damages (6.98 million cases) in 2021. Slips can occur due to wet or slippery surfaces, such as in kitchens, hospitals, and anywhere employees constantly walk on. Meanwhile, falls typically happen on construction sites, stairs, and other elevated places.

2. Overexertion

Lifting, pushing, and throwing usually cause strains, so you’d expect them to occur in factories, construction areas, and other workplaces requiring tedious manual labor. However, it could also happen even when working with small instruments like screwdrivers or keyboards. Overexertion was the leading cause of workplace injuries in 2023.

3. Cuts

Improper knife use or contact with sharp edges are common hazards, making cuts responsible for 29% of DARTs (Days Away from Work, Job Restriction, or Transfer) from 2021 to 2022. They can occur in any occupation but are most common in workplaces like restaurants, hospitals, and manufacturing plants that require workers to handle sharp equipment and machinery.

4. Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs)

You can get RSIs from tasks that require repetitive motions, like using a mouse or working on an assembly line. Common RSIs include tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other conditions affecting the tendons and nerves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention performed a survey within a three-month period in 2023, revealing that 9% of adults have RSIs, with many cases resulting from work.

5. Vehicle collisions

Depending on the nature of the industry, employees may also need to handle vehicles for work. These machines, however, may collide with other people, such as forklift drivers hitting someone or a trucker crashing into another vehicle.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 42,164 truckers sustained injuries after a road accident in 2021. Meanwhile, forklifts were responsible for nearly 24,960 DART incidents between 2021 and 2022. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is yet to release an updated report on forklift accidents. 

6. Thermal and chemical burns

Employees who handle flammable or highly corrosive substances risk thermal and chemical burns. Both incidents may cause severe tissue and respiratory damage that can lead to long-term complications, depending on exposure severity. Factories, production plants, and laboratories are most at risk, but any workplace can suffer from fires and chemical spills.

7. Diseases

You might also be harmed from exposure to hazardous substances or biological agents. Take plumbers, for example. They sometimes contract hepatitis, E. Coli, typhoid, and other diseases due to their proximity to contaminated soil and raw sewage. Laboratory employees working with infectious agents could also acquire illnesses without proper safety measures and equipment.

8. Spinal injuries

Falls, vehicular accidents, and improper lifting techniques can damage your spine. Spinal injuries typically cause impaired mobility, paralysis, and loss of sensation, with more extreme cases leading to death. Employees who regularly lift heavy weights or do manual, repetitive work that exerts their backs (e.g., farmers) risk damaging their spines, but even non-manual laborers could suffer from this injury.

What Are Your Rights If You Get Injured at Work?

Understanding and upholding these rights ensures you receive the support and protection you need to recover and return safely to work.

1. The right to pursue medical treatment

Your employer can’t prohibit you from seeking prompt medical attention to prevent further complications and building a medical record after an injury. You’re also free to choose a healthcare provider to support your case and testify on your behalf if you file a lawsuit.

2. The right to compensation

Don’t fret if you can’t afford to pay for your medical bills. The Workers’ Compensation program can cover expenses by providing cash or healthcare benefits. Its coverage varies state by state, with Texas being the only jurisdiction that doesn’t require employers to have it. However, there’s a caveat: you waive the right to sue your employer by accepting workers’ compensation.

3. The right to be free from discrimination

Employers and colleagues can’t discriminate against you for your injury or disability. The American Disability Act (ADA) upholds this right by prohibiting unfair treatment in all aspects of employment, from promotions to social activities, because of your injury. You won’t have to worry about your bosses or coworkers treating you negatively.

4. The right to return to work

Some employers fire workers who suffer from injuries on the job, especially when it substantially affects the employees’ capacity to work competently. Thankfully, the ADA also prohibits such job decisions.

Wrongful termination is a form of employment discrimination that infringes on your rights as an injured or disabled employee. In fact, your employer must provide reasonable accommodations so you can return to work without worrying about falling behind.

5. The right to be free from retaliation

Likewise, management can’t retaliate against you for asserting your rights or reporting unsafe working conditions under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Whistleblower Protection Program. In effect, you can freely take measures to ensure workplace safety.

6. The right to take your case to court

You may pursue legal action against your employer if you believe their negligence or misconduct directly caused your workplace injury. You can also file lawsuits against third parties, like manufacturers of defective equipment or negligent contractors. However, remember that accepting benefits from the Workers’ Compensation program means you can’t file a lawsuit anymore.

7. The right to legal representation

Navigating disability legislature and lawsuits can be daunting, especially if you’re already suffering from a debilitating injury. Fortunately, you can seek legal representation from qualified attorneys specializing in personal injury cases. They will help you comprehend your rights, guide you through legal processes, and advocate for your best interests through claims or litigation.

Workplace Injury Prevention: 7 Tips for Employees

Prevention is better than a cure. While labor and workplace safety laws protect you from the aftermath of an injury, taking measures to minimize accidents is a significantly less stressful process.

1. Double-check your workspace

Before starting your workday, assess your equipment and immediate environment for potential hazards. Inspect tools, machinery, and safety gear to ensure they’re in good working condition. At the same time, pay attention to any wear and tear, loose components, or unusual noises indicating a problem.

If this process isn’t standard practice in your organization, consider escalating it to your superiors. After all, it’s also in their best interest to keep the workplace safe.

2. Don’t work under hazardous conditions

Is there a hazard, but your employer is forcing you to work? Your well-being should always take precedence over productivity. Exercise your rights as an employee to refuse unsafe work by alerting your supervisor or higher management. If they fail to act, remind them that OSHA’s Workplace Safety Law mandates them to identify and deal with potential hazards.

3. Use personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPEs are a crucial line of defense against workplace hazards and injuries. They include safety goggles, gloves, and respiratory masks, depending on your occupation. Make it a habit to wear appropriate PPE for your duties and follow manufacturer guidelines on proper use to ensure maximum protection. Also, regularly inspect your PPE for damage and replace defective components promptly.

4. Don’t take untested shortcuts

You might be tempted to cut corners during busy days to save time or effort. However, untested shortcuts can risk your safety and those around you. Avoid bypassing established procedures and adhere to safety guidelines to minimize hazards. If you identify opportunities to improve efficiency, communicate your ideas to management for evaluation and implementation.

5. Maintain an orderly workplace

A tidy environment enhances productivity and reduces the risk of accidents. So, maintain orderliness by properly storing tools, materials, and equipment when not in use. Doing so keeps walkways clear of obstructions, enabling safe movement and evacuation during emergencies. Moreover, promptly address messes and hazards to avoid exacerbating them.

6. Communicate hazards

If you see a risk or hazard, don’t deal with it alone. Communicate safety concerns with your colleagues, supervisors, and team members by sharing near misses or observations of unsafe conditions. In turn, you can raise awareness and encourage corrective action. 

7. Be on high alert around dangerous equipment

Certain equipment, such as heavy machinery, power tools, and industrial equipment, pose inherent risks and require vigilance when operating or working near them.

Follow safety protocol to minimize the likelihood of accidents. Stay focused on your task and ignore distractions that could compromise your safety when using these machines. If you notice any malfunctions, be it a minor glitch or odd noise, report them immediately to your supervisor for inspection and maintenance.

Uphold Your Safety and Rights in the Workplace

Ensuring a safe and secure work environment is crucial to your well-being and those of your colleagues. So, familiarize yourself with common workplace injuries and how to avoid them to minimize the hazards. Likewise, read up on your rights as an employee to know how to deal with the aftermath of an injury.

Do you need legal assistance to guide you through the claims process or represent you in court? Reach out to us at Shegerian and Associates. Don’t wait until it’s too late—consult with a knowledgeable disability and worker’s comp lawyer today to learn more about your rights and options.

Contact us to learn more.

Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.