Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that work injuries and illnesses for nursing employees soared in 2020 even as overall injury rates sank during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Injuries for nursing employees increased by 249 percent even as the number of non-fatal injuries by employees dropped form 2.7 million in 2019 to 2.1 million in 2020. Part of the increase in nursing injuries came from a jump in workplace respiratory illnesses that jumped from 10,000 in 2019 to 428,700 in 2020. That jump respiratory illnesses can likely be attributed to the COVD-19 pandemic.
But is the increase in nursing injuries solely due to COVID-19 infections? Probably not, health care workers are working longer hours and fatigued employees are more at risk of being injured. The COVID-19 pandemic is also leading to staffing issues. Short-staffed medical facilities tend to have more work injuries. Health care workers, like other workers, are also changing jobs as part of the so-called Great Resignation. New employees are at a higher risk for work injuries.
Short-staffing in nursing facilities is a particular concern in sparsely populated parts of Nebraska. Local media recently featured stories of nursing facilities closing in rural Nebraska due to staffing issues.
Fewer work injuries, more difficult claims?
The data from the BLS indicates some potentially challenging times for attorneys representing injured workers. Overall injuries decreased greatly during the first year of the pandemic. While occupational COVID-19 exposures might have come close to making up for the decrease in traditional work injuries, COVID-19 exposure cases are generally more difficult cases for employees to prove. Potentially hundreds of thousands of employees could go uncompensated or be vastly undercompensated for conditions related to COVID-19 exposure on the job.
The impact of the decline of service sector job losses due to the pandemic
It will be interesting to see the work injury data from the second year of the pandemic. The service sector has been most hard hit by job loss during the pandemic. While service-sector jobs are thought to be easier and safer than manufacturing, BLS statistics from 2018 showed injury rates in the retailing sector exceeding that of the manufacturing sector. The large drop in work injuries during the pandemic can likely be explained in part by massive job losses in the service sector due to the pandemic.