Minnesota’s health care employees and first responders can face serious biological threats. On-duty exposure to a dangerous bloodborne or airborne pathogen could result in a life-threatening condition.
Some illnesses may fall into the category of “an ordinary disease of life” that might also develop outside of the work environment. Under certain employment conditions, however, an illness may qualify as an occupational disease. Employees who can prove the illness they contracted is job-related may apply for workers’ compensation.
Bloodborne contagion from contaminated instruments
Skin punctures from contaminated sharp instruments, objects and needles can infect a worker with bloodborne diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contact with greater than 20 harmful pathogens may occur from exposure to blood from an infected patient. The CDC estimates that more than 350,000 employee infections occur this way each year.
Infection through airborne droplets
As noted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, interacting with a patient or emergency victim can become a medical crisis if transmission of an airborne pathogen occurs. A worker may attend to an individual who shows no symptoms but is nonetheless carrying an easily spread infection. The individual’s speaking or coughing could transmit the disease through airborne droplets.
Exposure and infection circumstances qualifying for workers’ comp
Based on Minnesota’s current workers’ compensation laws, health care workers and first responders may apply for benefits if performing their job duties causes them to contract an infectious disease. The infection requires positive confirmation by a lab test or through an examination by an authorized clinician. As noted in the text of Minnesota’s HF 4537 bill, after satisfying the law’s requirements the illness may qualify as an “occupational disease” directly related to the individual’s “course of employment.”