It was a normal day on the job when a sanitation worker who had over 23 years on the job hopped off the back of the truck he was manning at one of his last stops. The container he went to pick up was fairly nondescript from the angle it was placed on the sidewalk, so he didn’t notice the skull and crossbones on the side. He threw the trash into the back of the truck and turned away just as the compactor pushed its blades through the container. The pressure of the compactor caused the liquid which was inside of the container to spew out, coating the worker.
The liquid, unknown to the worker, was a 70% hydrofluoric acid solution. This acid is classified as “acutely hazardous” and doctors have noted that exposure to even a small amount can result in serious injuries such as burns, dehydration, decalcification, respiratory issues, and death. Despite being rushed to the hospital within minutes of the accident, the worker only lived for another five hours before he succumbed to his injuries.
This man, who in the course of his career had even been a poster boy for the Sanitation Department urging others to join the field, has been deeply mourned by his coworkers. Nearly 2,000 workers attended his funeral.
Sadly, his tragic death is just another reminder of the dangers that sanitation workers face on the job every day.
The Dangerous Work
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that sanitation work is the seventh most dangerous industry in the United States. The most common issues that sanitation workers face every day include:
Punctures and Lacerations
Nearly every part of a worker’s day exposes them to hazards that could cause a puncture or laceration. Broken glass, improperly disposed of needles, bent license plates, and metal pieces can all cut the skin and cause serious damage. In one case, the driver of a truck took a turn too quickly and his partner punctured his eye on a metal rod sticking out of a recycling can. Another lost two fingers to the blades on the back of the truck after his hand became entangled in a trash bag which his hand into the back of the truck while the trash was being compacted.
Workers are frequently hit as they collect waste and are either flung some distance away or pinned in between two vehicles. The injuries sustained by these victims, who have been struck by an heavy vehicle that is much larger than they are, can be substantial.
Hazardous Chemical Exposure
Not many people are aware of the fact that certain substances must be disposed of in a specific manner. When hazardous chemicals are put in with the regular trash, workers are immediately at risk for exposure, especially when a container is punctured by the compactors blades. One man was covered in sewer sludge which was so toxic that it placed him in the hospital for more than three weeks.
Blunt Force Trauma
It isn’t just liquids that can erupt out of the back of the garbage truck. In one instance, someone threw away a bowling ball. The pressure of the compactor launched the ball out of the back and directly into the torso of the worker who was loading the truck. He was knocked unconscious from the force and suffered multiple broken ribs and severe bruising. He, however, considers himself lucky. If the ball had hit his head he could have easily died as a result.
Slip & Falls
Spilled liquids, ice, broken sidewalks, potholes, and more can result in a slip and fall. The fall does not need to be from a great height in order to cause serious injury.
Regardless of how the worker was injured, the fact is that many are suddenly faced with substantial medical bills and limited resources to pay those expenses with.
Can’t Workers’ Comp Be Claimed?
No. Per the state of New York, sanitation workers are not eligible for workers’ compensation. Instead, the injured employee must file a claim with the New York City Comptroller against the City of New York within 90 days of their accident. Then, they may or may not recover compensation for their expenses depending on the outcome of that claim.
Is There Another Way To Obtain Compensation?
Yes. It may be possible, depending on the circumstance of the accident, that a third-party lawsuit could be pursued against the party whose negligence resulted in the accident. In some cases, it may even be the CIty of New York that is considered the negligent party. These lawsuits may provide the victim with compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
If I Can’t Return To Work Am I Eligible For Social Security Disability?
It is possible that if you were seriously injured on the job and are unable to return to work, that you may be eligible to file a social security disability claim. If the claim is approved, the benefits that may be received may help to cover monthly living expenses and medical bills. However, it isn’t easy to obtain an approval for these benefits. In fact, nearly 65% of all claims are denied each year.
Can An Attorney Help Me?
Yes! An attorney can assist you with filling out forms, collecting evidence, and can also represent you at any hearings. An attorney can also speak on your behalf with any insurance companies and negotiate a settlement.
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