Janitors and On the Job Injuries
Workplace Dangers Can’t Be Swept Under the Rug
Justice for Janitors—a social movement that began in 1985 as an organized effort to fight for the rights of janitors and is organized under the umbrella of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—has made great strides in improving the lives of these hard-working men and women. And, yet, 30 years later, janitors still rank among the highest in terms of workplace injuries.
It makes sense when you consider that the work of janitors is physically demanding, with duties that include:
- Mopping floors
- Moving furniture
- Washing desks and tables
- Emptying garbage cans and recycling containers
- Cleaning bathrooms and common areas
Such tasks require pushing, pulling and lifting. They also place the body in awkward positions for lengthy periods of time, leading to a wide variety of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), involving various parts of the body, including the following:
The physicality of the job can also lead to injuries that impact the elbows, arms, shoulders, ankles, hands and even fingers.
Chemical exposure is also cause for many workplace injuries among those in the janitorial industry. According to a study conducted by Cornell University, custodians, janitors and housekeepers may suffer from the following:
- Respiratory tract problems caused by the inhalation of aerosols, vapors, powders or dusts, and particles of fibers.
- Skin burn, eye damage and irritation caused by skin contact with cleaning liquids.
- Skin allergies or loss of skin pigmentation due to skin contact with certain types of gloves.
- Skin absorption of liquids such as solvent or disinfectants.
Other common causes of on-the-job injuries for these workers include:
- Slip and falls as well as falls from heights, such as when using a ladder.
- Hearing damaged from constant use of equipment, such as scrubbers, polishers and vacuum cleaners.
- Sleep disorders caused by revolving shifts or night shifts.
- Stress from staff cutbacks that lead to an increase in the territory that needs to be covered in a given shift.
- Stress from the oftentimes isolated nature of the work, leading to little, if any, social contact during a shift. Such isolation can also lead to a dangerous and/or hostile work environment in which a janitor can be bullied or harassed by tenants.
Many of these workplace challenges, however, can be countered by effective risk management protocol, such as:
- Use of Personal Protective Equipment
- Workplace hazardous material handling training
- Proper procedures for spills, such as warning signs, barriers and immediate clean-up
- Wearing non-slip footwear
- Use of extension tools to alleviate awkward stretching and postures
- Using mechanical loading devices
- Working at an appropriate pace where attention is paid to potential hazards
- Learning and utilizing proper lifting techniques
Such proactive action requires effort on the part of the employer as well as the worker. Even with the best laid plans, accidents happen. When they do, it is imperative for injured workers to have the counsel of an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney.
From Our Files
- We represented a janitor who had been working for the employer for several years and had great work reviews and evaluations. A new supervisor began to harass the janitor, causing her stress and anxiety to the point where she began to experience depression. She was taken off work by her private doctor and was not receiving benefits. She filed a workers’ compensation claim, but her case was denied by the employer who alleged that her anxiety and depression were not work related. We litigated the matter successfully, gaining workers’ compensation benefits, including medical treatment and retroactive temporary disability for our client.
- A janitor we represented had a prior back injury while working for the same employer, and had even received a prior award for permanent disability and medical treatment. However, a few years later while cleaning bathrooms, he injured his back and filed a work injury claim that was denied by the employer who alleged that it was related to the previous claim. We sent the applicant for medical treatment and took the matter to trial. The court found that this was a new injury and awarded additional permanent disability and medical treatment.
- A janitor injured her knees from a slip and fall while she was mopping floors. She was sent to the employer’s clinic for treatment during which she was told to return to work because, according to X-ray findings, there was nothing wrong with her. The employee attempted to return to work but was in too much pain and was sent home. She was off work for a few months and didn’t receive any benefits. We sent her for treatment where an MRI showed a meniscal tear that required surgery. Despite this, the employer refused to pay temporary disability. The matter was litigated and the employer was made to pay retroactive temporary disability.
- An older gentleman worked as a janitor for several years when he began to experience symptoms to his neck, back and bilateral upper and lower extremities. We filed a continuous trauma claim on his behalf, which the employer denied. The employer even claimed that the injuries were a result of the worker’s age, weight and pre-existing diabetic condition. Because of the employee’s orthopedic deterioration, he had significantly limited movement, causing him to gain weight, which also affected his diabetes. We amended the workers’ compensation claim to include weight gain and aggravation of diabetes. The matter was litigated and we were able to secure a medical award concerning all of his orthopedic complaints, and secured a medical award to treat his weight gain and diabetes.
Keep in mind that because Workers’ Compensation is a no-fault system, an injured worker is not suing his or her employer, but rather making a claim for benefits. And, because each claim is different, with many variables involved, results cannot be guaranteed.