Safety and OSHA News

$10 phone headset or $128K comp bill: Which would you rather pay?

If an employee requests a reasonably priced piece of equipment to improve ergonomic performance on their job, would your company easily grant it? Here’s one of those stories that should encourage such ergonomic spending.

Angela Grott worked as a finance clerk at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois. She often had to type on a keyboard while speaking on the phone, so she requested a headset.

Her request was denied, and she said she was forced to hold the phone receiver in the crook of her neck for hours while typing. The result: severe neck, shoulder and arm pain and headaches.

She sought medical help. Two days after she saw a surgeon, she underwent an operation. The surgeon said she had a pre-existing disc degeneration that was aggravated by holding the phone in an awkward manner.

Grott’s workers’ comp claim so far totals $128,424 for medical bills, according to an investigation by the Belleville News-Democrat.

She’s received $7,304 for 12 weeks of temporary disability pay. Even though Grott has been cleared to return to work, a permanent partial disability (PPD) claim is pending, which could range from $20,000 to $110,000.

The newspaper reports the type of headset Grott could have used on the job was for sale at a nearby store for $9.96.

Ergonomic workers’ comp claims = big bucks

The investigation by the News-Democrat shows since Jan. 1, 2008, about $7 million has been paid to Menard employees in PPD awards for repetitive trauma.

The attorney who is representing Grott has also been the attorney for the majority of 260 repetitive trauma claims filed by Menard employees. Most of the claims have been from guards, who said operating heavy cell lock mechanisms caused carpal tunnel syndrome or cubital tunnel of the elbow, which led to surgery.

From the better-late-than-never department, a spokeswoman for the prison system said it’s in the process of obtaining headsets for staff members who’ve requested them.

And one more quirk about this story: Grott’s case was heard before arbitrator John Dibble. The newspaper reports Dibble has been on paid administrative leave since February. He received a workers’ comp award of $48,790 based on a claim that last year he fell on stairs at a workers’ comp hearing site, resulting in delayed onset carpal tunnel syndrome. Records show there were no witnesses to the fall.

Does your company provide ergonomic work station modifications for workers who request them? Have you ever faced large workers’ comp bills because such ergonomic fixes weren’t made available? Let us know in the Comments Box below.

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Comments

  1. This is so true with any equipment that can make employees life easier (as long as they are not un-reasonable).

  2. If the headset only cost $9.96, why didn’t the stupid woman just buy it herself? Many workers must supply hundreds of dollars of their own equipment to perform their duties. Everyone needs to stop bitching about what their employers don’t do and start taking responsibility for themselves. If this pisses you off then you either agree with me or you are one of those useless people who feel entitled to everything and are just a drag on our society.

  3. SafetyGeek says:

    To Al:

    This is exactly what I’ve suggested to my wife, who deals with this very same hold-the-phone-and-type issue. Problem is that the phone itself won’t accept a headset… and while there are other work-arounds, they’re much more expensive. With the permission of the company owners, I did an ergo workstation assessment of my wife’s area months ago and this was one of my top recommendations. I’ve told my wife that if the company will be the compatible phone, we’ll pay for the headset. Fair is fair… but, Al, it takes all parties to come together.

  4. Safety Geek
    I see that you are at least a reasonable person that is willing to meet half-way so to speak, and I’m cool with your resolution, but I feel that more often than not, there are a lot of people out there that feel too entitled and that someone else should do something for them, when sometimes the easiest solution is to just do for yourself. I see that you are one of those that takes the problem and finds a solution and doesn’t wait for the problem to fester into a lawsuit.

  5. Mark Balduzzi says:

    Having taken part in a number of ergonomic changes in office, field and production environments seeing first-hand the resulting improvements in productivity, performance and attitudes, I give kudos to any employer savvy enough to mitigate these risks.

    Having your receptionist working in a poorly designed workstation always makes for an unflattering statement about how you value employee assets. Most of these ergo improvements are at little to no cost (as seen here) and often only require someone with general mechanical aptitude to make assessments and implement changes. Having a properly equipped office workstation can be equally as important as having a properly outfitted service vehicle.

    Insurance carriers can also provide valuable assistance in this area either with trained professional loss prevention consultants or by providing DIY Guides that can take you step by step through the assessment and adjustment process. There is no lack of information on this topic.

    There really is little excuse for ignoring this type of risk at this point.

  6. Safety Specialist says:

    I dont think its as much as an entitlement issue as that the responsible thing for the employer to do when something like this is asked for is to simply provide it. The last 2 places I have worked for have provided headsets when asked. And when my phone was recently updated, so was the headset with no questions asked.
    Yes, an employee could provide their own supplies but they really should not have to.

  7. For employees who are on the phone for excessive amounts of time this would seem to fit in to the catagory of saftey equipment. It would seem very shortsighted to refuse to purchase the headset in the situation guess it goes to show that cheap isn’t always best.

  8. Where I work I am on the phone about 4 to 5 hours of the day – I need to be able to type and use my hands while on the phone – I’ve asked for a headset and was turned down – I took it upon myself to find a headset and bought one online for $20.00 – It didn’t work properly so I returned it – The only one that I can find that is compatible with my phone is $200 which I’m not willing to shell out – Other people in the company have been giving headsets, but the reason they get one and I don’t is, “They are on the phone 8 hours a day, 7 days a week” – Does this make any sense? In any instance it should be the employers responsibility to provide equipment so that the employer can perform their job without risk of injury – I agree that if the headset only costs $10 the woman COULD have gone and bought it herself, but ultimately the employer should be responsible for providing it – That would be like a roofer not being given a ladder

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