While janitorial and custodial workers are often the least visible employees in offices, schools, stores, hospitals, and other businesses, they’re certainly among the most important. Every commercial building has to be properly maintained and cleaned regularly in order to stay in business and operate efficiently, especially if that building is open to the public.
Building maintenance is not only vitally important in the workplace; it’s also potentially dangerous. Janitors and custodians are more likely than most other employees to sustain accidental work-related injuries or develop occupational illnesses in the course of performing their job duties.
Common Injuries Sustained by Janitorial Workers
Sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, emptying garbage, handling recyclables, climbing ladders, and washing tables, desks, and miscellaneous equipment can result in a variety of accidental injuries for janitors, including the following.
Reaching, bending, kneeling, pushing, pulling, and other repetitive motions can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome and other joint, tendon, and ligament problems, as well as nerve damage.
Using vacuum cleaners, floor buffers, and power tools, as well as repairing wiring, changing light bulbs, or installing circuit breakers, creates a risk of shock or electrocution to a custodial employee.
Inspecting or repairing furnaces, kitchen equipment, and other devices with hot surfaces or open flames can result in serious burns for maintenance employees. Disposing of garbage by burning it in an incinerator can also lead to burn injuries.
Lifting and carrying objects like furniture, heavy equipment, or large crates can result in damage to the neck, shoulders, and back. A ruptured disc or other spinal cord injury can cause excruciating pain, require surgery, and lead to paralysis in the worst cases.
Exposure to Dangerous Chemicals
Some cleaning fluids and other toxic chemicals used by janitors can cause skin rashes or damage the user’s eyes if there’s a splash. Breathing the fumes of such chemicals can also irritate the throat and nose, cause respiratory problems, or bring on an asthma attack.
Working in an environment with a high noise level or operating power tools, power washers, and other loud equipment can damage a janitor’s hearing permanently.
Contagions and Pathogens
Custodial workers who clean hospitals and other medical facilities might be exposed to contagious diseases or blood-borne pathogens that can damage the liver and lead to hepatitis or other illnesses.
Many janitors and custodians work overnight and have trouble sleeping during the day or on nights when they’re off work. Irregular sleep patterns can leave the employee tired on the job and more likely to have an accident.
Psychological and Emotional Injuries
Many janitorial employees carry out their work alone, day after day and year after year, engaging in little or no human interaction. Some are also looked down upon, belittled, disrespected, or bullied due to the nature of their work and their positions at the bottom of the “company ladder.” Psychological and emotional issues can result.
Take Precautions to Prevent Injuries
Janitors and custodians can decrease the risk of the injuries listed above by taking certain precautions:
- Wearing safety shoes or footwear with non-slip soles
- Using the proper tools to reduce stress on arms and hands
- Employing ladders and extension devices instead of stretching and reaching awkwardly
- Using personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, ventilators, goggles, helmets, and gloves when necessary
- Using correct lifting techniques and devices to reduce back strain
- Getting sufficient rest so as not to be fatigued on the job
Employers should always provide their janitorial staff with proper training in the handling of hazardous waste and other potentially dangerous job duties.
Workers’ Compensation for Janitorial and Custodial Employees
If you’re a janitorial or custodial employee who is injured or develops an illness in the course of performing job duties in South Carolina, you’re probably eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ comp is no-fault insurance that covers the medical bills and lost wages of employees with work-related injuries or occupational illnesses.
Nearly every South Carolina employer with four or more workers on the payroll is required by law to carry workers’ comp insurance. In order to file a claim for benefits, you do not have to prove that your employer did anything wrong to cause your injury or illness. Even if you’re responsible for your own accident, you may file a claim, and your boss may not fire you or penalize you in any way for doing so.
What to Do If You’re Injured on the Job
If you suffer any accidental work-related injury or develop an occupational disease, you should take the following steps:
Report the Accident and File a Claim
Although the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission (SCWCC) gives you 90 days to report your injury or illness to your supervisor, you should do so in writing as soon as possible after your accident or diagnosis. Provide details explaining when, where, and how you were hurt. If possible, include photos of your injury and names of any witnesses to your accident.
If your employer has not filed your workers’ comp claim within a week or ten days, you should do so yourself by submitting Form 50 (for injury or illness) or Form 52 (for work-related death) from the SCWCC’s website. You have two years to file your claim, but any delay in doing so could work against you.
See a Doctor Right Away
As soon as possible after your accident, seek medical care from a physician certified by your employer’s insurance company, which actually pays workers’ comp benefits. (Do not simply go to your own doctor; doing so could hurt your claim.) Follow the doctor’s treatment plan conscientiously, keep all appointments, take all medications as prescribed, and retain receipts for all your treatments.
If your claim is accepted, all your medical bills can be submitted to the insurer, and you should receive two-thirds of your normal salary until you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI) and the doctor releases you to return to your job or to a light-duty position that accommodates your restrictions.
When to Consult a Workers’ Comp Lawyer
A claim for a minor injury resulting in low medical expenses and less than a week off work might not require the help of an attorney. Expensive claims for more serious injuries, however, are likely to be delayed, disputed, or denied by the insurance company. You should contact an attorney for help with your claim in any of the following circumstances:
- Your claim is delayed, disputed, or denied.
- The insurer’s adjuster requests a recorded statement regarding your injury. (Do not provide one without an attorney present.)
- Your employer fires you or retaliates against you for filing your claim.
- You have a pre-existing injury or health condition.
- The insurer is slow to approve necessary treatment.
- After reaching MMI, you’re left with a total or partial permanent disability.
- A third party not employed by your employer bears full or partial responsibility for your injury.
Your attorney can help you to request an informal conference, arrange a hearing before the SCWCC, or file an appeal in civil court.