Teachers serve as role models to children, providing them with education, guidance, and dedication. They deserve to be respected by students, parents, staff members, and administrators, but are sometimes targeted for violence and personal injury. Physical and emotional harm are only part of the picture because unhealthy working environments in schools can cause serious illnesses. This has been seen in recent years through problems with asbestos exposure, but this is not the only kind of toxic circumstances that can cause teachers harm.
The circumstances leading to these injuries and illness are wide ranging. One example was a gay teacher victimized by hate crimes; a student punched the teacher for this reason. In another school, the bathroom toilets were not properly connected to the sewer line and toxic chemicals were released into the air, leading to a host of medical complaints. It is also common for teachers to slip on water on bathroom floors, spilled drinks in cafeterias, and icy parking lots and sidewalks. Not all lead to serious injuries, but the risks are there.
Are Teachers at Risk for Violence?
Some experts believe that violence against teachers is a national crisis, and a study published by the American Psychological Association backs up this theory. They surveyed teachers in Los Angeles, and 80 percent of the respondents claimed that they had been victimized at least once in their current or prior school year. These acts of violence included threats of injury, assaults, lockdowns, shootings, stabbings, property damage, and even death.
Physical violence can also come from strangers and other outsiders who enter school properties without permission. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires schools to take certain steps to keep their teachers, students, and staff safe. This includes front desk check-ins with proper identification, developing emergency lockdown and evacuation procedures, requiring all employees to wear photo IDs, having designated reception areas, and not allowing anyone on the property without staff escorts.
How Else can Teachers Get Hurt at Work?
Certain classes come with a higher risk for injuries, including gyms, driver’s education, and chemistry. Gym teachers can experience athletic injuries; driving instructors can get into car accidents; and chemistry teachers work with Bunsen burners, caustic chemicals, and electrical equipment. OSHA does provide some guidance for laboratories. These rooms should be equipped with safety goggles, aprons, gloves, eyewash equipment, and fire extinguishers. Special education teachers can also become injured if the proper protocols are not followed.
More routine injuries can also occur in schools. Slip and fall accidents can happen in any kind of workplace, and when there is a lack of school funding there may be a lack of maintenance and upkeep. This could mean damaged floors, crumbling steps, and torn carpeting. Or, if a spill is not cleaned up fast enough or correctly, anyone could fall and get seriously injured.
Teachers can also fall after tripping over desks or when trying to hang things up on walls. Repetitive tasks such as working on a computer or grading tests by hand can cause hand and wrist injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome to develop, and standing for long periods put individuals at risk for leg, back, and hip injuries.
What about Teachers and Toxic Exposure?
Asbestos is not the only possible hidden danger in school buildings. Toxic contamination can also be caused by excessive dirt and dust, insects, vermin excrement, mold, fumes, and moisture damage. These can enter the body by being swallowed, breathed in, or through the eyes and skin. Victims can experience immediate and/or long-term chronic symptoms.
The main symptoms of toxic workplace exposure are:
- Ear, nose, and throat problems
- Bloody noses
- Muscle numbness and spasms
- Inability to focus and/or memory loss
- Blurry vision
- Severe headaches
- Skin rashes
- Anxiety, depression, sleeping problems
In severe cases, toxic exposure can lead to birth defects, fertility problems, and catastrophic illnesses such as cancer. Some of the more severe illnesses take years or decades to develop, and the signs of toxic exposure are often mistaken for other health issues.
Do Teachers Have Work-Related Stress?
Many Workers’ Compensation claims for teachers are based on work-related stress. Today’s educators are under a great deal of pressure, from issues such as aging buildings, out-of-control students, overcrowded classes, a lack of administrative support, the Coronavirus (COVID-19), and not enough time or supplies to do their jobs. This kind of stress can cause mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, plus physical symptoms including gastrointestinal problems, headaches, and high blood pressure.
Added stress can come from frequent minor and major illnesses transmitted from students, staff members, and parents who are in contact when they are sick. This can expose teachers to viral and bacterial infections, which can turn quite serious if they are not treated or if there are other health risk factors involved. It is also not unheard of for teachers to experience hearing loss. There are plenty of loud noises in schools, such as slamming lockers, loud music, and school bells.
To prove a stress injury claim through Workers’ Compensation, certain criteria have to be met. In general, the injured teacher needs to have been employed on the job for a minimum of six months, and work stress must be the leading cause of the health problem. The stress cannot have been caused by a so-called good faith personnel action, but it does not have to be linked to one specific event. Cumulative trauma over time can cause stress-related health issues as well. These laws can vary from state to state.
Can I Get Workers’ Compensation if I am a Teacher?
Teachers who experience on-the-job injuries and illnesses are often entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits that can cover their medical expenses and lost time from work. This can include injuries sustained on school grounds or when performing school duties elsewhere. These are available even when teachers are at fault because Workers’ Compensation is a no-fault system; the school is not being sued. Unless the teacher was purposely trying to hurt themselves, trying to hurt someone else, or intoxicated on drugs or alcohol, they should be eligible for coverage.
It is crucial to report the injury or illness as soon as possible through the proper channels, and the school should have a policy that explains how to do this. All claims are different, plus there are state laws and school district laws that will influence the outcome. The results can never be guaranteed, especially if the proper protocols are not followed.
If the teacher belongs to a union, the union and building representatives should also be contacted. Timeliness is of the essence, and it is also important to maintain records of how and when the incident occurred and all the medical treatment and expenses that were involved. If anyone witnessed the event, they should be contacted as well.
What if My Workers’ Compensation Claim was Denied?
In the majority of these cases, teachers apply for Workers’ Compensation and receive the benefits for which they are entitled. However, claims can be denied for a variety of reasons. Sometimes insurance adjusters suspect that claims are fraudulent, paperwork is not filled out properly, or documentation is missing. A rejection can be quite upsetting, especially when a teacher is seriously injured, unable to work, and has a legitimate claim. In these circumstances, the best move would be to contact an experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer.
Wilmington Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Respect Teachers and Help Them Get the Compensation They Deserve
If you are a teacher who has been injured or fallen ill because of a school property workplace incident, the skilled Wilmington Workers’ Compensation lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC can offer useful advice and assistance. We will help you secure the fair and just compensation you deserve. Call us today at 302-888-1221 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients in Dover, Newark, and Middletown.