Safety and OSHA News

Will employee get comp for on-the-job stroke?

A foundry worker had a stroke at work. He filed for workers’ comp, arguing that working in a 100° room contributed to the stroke. Will the employee get comp benefits?

John Ruschak suffered a stroke at work that left him paralyzed on his left side and unable to work.

His job at Victaulic Co. in Easton, PA, was to carry heavy buckets up stairs and use a jackhammer to remove slag from the mouth of a furnace.

The temperature in the area where he worked was 100°. (A Victaulic plant superintendent claimed the temperature was closer to 70°.) The place where Ruschak worked was called the “hot room.”

Ruschak wore welding clothes under a fire suit and sweated profusely during work.

The company said the area is cooled by fans that force in outside air and workers are provided liquids and encouraged to take breaks when needed.

The company’s defense was that Ruschak had been treated for high blood pressure for several years. But Ruschak’s attorney argued that it was under control with medication.

Ruschak was 48 when he had the stroke in May 2010.

When the case went before a workers’ comp judge, other Victaulic employees testified that the working conditions weren’t as severe as Ruschak had claimed.

When there is conflicting testimony in workers’ comp hearings, the judge can use her discretion to determine which side is more credible.

In this case, the judge rejected the testimony from the other workers and the company’s medical expert. The judge awarded Ruschak $1.1 million for wage losses at the rate of $718 per week, which is 66% of his former weekly pay. Workers’ comp will also cover his related medical expenses.

Victaulic says it will appeal to Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, but the company had no other comment on the case.

Ruschak’s attorney, David Stern, told the Morning Call newspaper that the decision is noteworthy because claims that working conditions contributed to a stroke are difficult to prove. Another legal expert contacted by the newspaper agreed that these types of cases are usually difficult for the injured worker to prove.

Few other details on this case are available aside from the accounts provided mostly by Ruschak’s lawyer in local newspapers.

Putting this case aside for a moment because not all details are available, do you think if an employee’s stroke at work was caused by a combination of high blood pressure, hot conditions and strenuous tasks that the worker should be eligible for workers’ comp? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. I’m going to eliminate the high blood pressure because it states that it was under control with medication. Now if the stroke was proven to happen because of hot conditions and strenuous tasks of the job, then yes he should get workers comp.

  2. alecfinn says:

    A stroke from dehydration and exertion in a overheated room while required to wear heavy PPE.

    Yeah………….. Makes sense

    We watch our patients in hot weather for dehydration and heat illness that can lead to a stroke

  3. Strokes occur any time, watching tv, driving, washing dishes, sleeping, even at work. Being that employer provided all rele ent PPE and air exchanger equipment, fans it would appear they did good. The stroke is an embolism in a vessel in the brain caused by a blood disorder. Its a medical condition on the part of the employee. Employee is not responsable. What next, his diabetes, heart attack, arthritis, cancer?

    You mention the judge as she? If she being the Sr final word judge I am aware of she is a crackpot. She is not a doctor or expert on industry either. She needs to retire and all her controversial decisions overturned. She forgets the ideals of WC.

  4. There’s really noit enough information presnted i nthsi articleto fairly judge just how “work related” the cause of this stroke was. Just because the hypertension could be ruled out doesn’t automatically mean that the work conditions must be the cause – strokes i nfact occur to people in all kinds ofambient conditiosn, hot cold, and comfortable. We need to hear all the facts, patient history, and medical conclusions to be able to form a resonable opinion about this particular case.

    But the possible ambiguities here (Did the work conditions cause the stroke? Was work the only cause?) do illustrate one of the fundamental problems I personally have with WC – namely that employers hold 100% of the financial responsibility of many cases even if work was just a minor contributer to cause , or in some cases not truly a contributor to “cause” at all the case just occurs at work. Responsibility should be proportional to share of the cause, not an all or nothing proposition. This is esp. true where the work event is just an “aggravation” of an already-existing underlying condition or problem (in some cases work might be just the proverbial “last straw”, but still under WC the employer ends up holding the whole liability).

  5. The conflict seems to be in what was the actual temperature. A 30 degree difference between what the employee and the employer states is a very significant difference. The fact that employees stepped forward and stated that the room was not as severe as the claimant stated should be a very, very strong clue as employees typically stand behind each other as opposed to backing the company – especially if a safety issue is at play. My initial perception is that once again a liberal judge automatically ruled in the employees favor without actually knowing the temperature of the room, etc. And we wonder why jobs are going overseas?

  6. Isn’t this what a fit for work physical is for? If a worker is at risk for stroke, which would be identified in a pre-employment or annual physical, then they don’t work in this envrionment. Simple risk management.

  7. TedBean says:

    The company should not have allowed him to work if his high blood pressure was not under control, so the ruling was correct. Also, it was considerably hotter inside the PPE than in the room, and the supervisor claims 70 degrees in the mouth of a furnace? What judge is going to believe that?

  8. As stated in the article, it’s a hard case to prove on either side. On one hand there is a company running a heat hazard operation. The company seems to have done various modifications to mitigate exposure. On the other hand we have an employee with high blood pressure (under control) that suffered a stroke that partially disabled him.
    Open issues to me are:
    1. Was the company aware of the employees high blood pressure
    2. Is the PPE creating additional hazards in the “hot room”
    3. Could this worker have been assigned a different task
    4. Were there other reported cases of heat stress
    5. Are people with high blood pressure (even under control) more susceptible to heat

    Any how, I feel sorry for the employee’s loss of physical faculties and sorry for the company that was held responsible for it. At the end, no win situation for both.

  9. Dave in Calif says:

    No, he should not. This person has a medical condition that can predipose him to having a CVA. The judge called the case with her emotions not the facts.

  10. alecfinn says:

    Let’s see at the minimum if the room “hot room” was indeed 70 degrees and the employee had to wear “welding clothes under a fire suit” how could the employee not become overheated dehydrated that leads to a stroke I work in a Psy. Center many of our patients are not considered candidate for strokes but are still watched when they are overheated if they are on meds or not.

    By the way 70 degrees is not considered a hot room it is probably about 5 degrees warmer than most places keep rooms for staff. However “welding clothes under a fire suit” is guaranteed to be hot as both are heavy and fire retardant, also a major strain on a person’s body, what is not addressed in the article but my expectation is the judge (male or female) would have taken into account what was the organizations policy for PPE in the “hot room”.

    No a stroke cannot be predicted……But there are situations that can make them more prevalent such as overheating and dehydration that caused the blood to thicken and the “Weak” vein that otherwise would not have ruptured rupture.

    And yes to the person who made the comment about annual physicals for job health……But frequently the condition for strokes will not show up in a physical. However monitoring a room that is called a “Hot Room” to make sure its temperature is not excessive and to also monitor staff to ensure they are wearing the appropriate PPE is advisable. Both these things are not rocket science, a thermometer in the room and checking staff upon entering the room is a simple process used in many organizations.

  11. alecfinn says:

    Dave
    Just trying to follow the logic of your note (and I do not mean any disrespect)
    Do not hire attractive females as they may cause a problem with men.
    Do not hire females as they may get pregnant……have to stay home with the kids.
    Do not hire single parents as they may have to care for their children.
    Do not hire anyone who has parents older than 50 as they may need to take off to care for their parents the same is true for relatives of the mentally disabled.
    Do not hire anyone over 40 as they will not have as long a career as a 20 year old.
    Do not hire anyone over 45 as generally their health will be more compromised than a 20 year old.
    Do not hire white folk as they can get skin cancer if they stay in the sun too long.
    Do not hire black folk as they might have sickle cell anemia.
    On and On
    A stroke is the rupturing of a vein in the head and most of the time this cannot be detected at all. If blood pressure is controlled then that person is no more at risk than a person without blood pressure problems. Generally if you look at risk factors almost all people have some sort of risk factor be it genetic, family care issues, or one or more of the many human conditions.
    When hiring you take from a pool of what seems to be the best that applied sometimes conditions change health issues crop up if the staff member takes care of them and the Drs say’s they are able to work then there is no issue.
    If the organization knowingly allows conditions that can have a negative affect the health of people then the organization is at fault…..Such as a too hot room and too much PPE. The Judge is right.

  12. There are infrared temperature guages that can tell the actual temperature of a room, and temperature strips that can be placed on the body to tell the actual temperature of the body. I also doubt seriously that it was 70 degrees near the mouth of the furnace. The company should have taken a reading of the guy’s work area, and put a temperature strip on the person who had to take the employee’s place to prove how hot it was. This would remove the subjectivity of it.

    Going forward, the company should institute a rule that one cannot work in the “hot room” for more than a certain amount of time, regardless of how healthy they seem. Have them wear a temperature strip on them to determine how hot they are getting, and if they get above a certain temperature, they need to leave the hot room.

    Just letting them take breaks when needed isn’t the way to go. Some employees may feel they’ll keep their job if they don’t take breaks, so may force themselves to work in harsh conditions.

  13. Many times, adverse working conditions do contribute to a number of physical illnesses. High stress jobs contribute to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, etc. Yes, genetic factors also play a part but so do adverse working conditions.

    I smell a rat in this case when there is such a huge difference in the employee’s report of the room temp vs the employer’s claim. I agree that 70 degrees in a ‘hot’ room is unbelievable….and undoubtedly played a role in the judge’s decision.

    One way to have avoided this argument would have been to have a regular check of temperatures in the room–basing the frequency of employee breaks for hydration on the temperature in the room. The temp in the room was a known hazard–that’s why the empoyer provided liquids and ‘encouraged’ breaks. The employer should have ‘required’ breaks when a known hazard is present.

    To the nay sayers: Would you refuse work comp to an employee who develops cancer while working closely with known carcinogens? Would you refuse work comp to an employee who falls on the job, breaking a hip? Cancer and osteoporosis can also be medical conditions.

    Employees don’t always stand behind another employee while testifying in a case like this. Many times, other employees either refuse to testify on either side (usually in fear of retaliation from the employer) or they do ‘come forward’ and testify for the employer because they value their job and are afraid that the employer with shut down the entire plant.

    I’m in agreement with the judge. This was a physically stressful job that may very well have contributed to this man’s high blood pressure. And, by the way, there are two kinds of stroke. One is caused by a clot, the other by the rupture of a vessel. I find it interesting that the type of stroke didn’t come into the case.

  14. Mike R says:

    I know that workers compensation was set up to limit the liability for employers and promises to provide coverage for workers who get injured on the job. I am unclear as to how the coverage is provided or calculated. How is it calculated for the employee who has a stroke or a heart attack with pre-existing conditions; for the employee who may have not had enough sleep and falls on the job; for the employee who gets angry and hurts themselves punching a vending machine; for the employee who is laughing so hard they fall out of their chair at work; for the employee who is driving to a work appointment and gets rear ended at the McDonalds drive thru getting coffee?

    Should they all qualify for medical only and then lost time and other compensation established based on fault and pre-existing conditions? I have been trying for 20 years to make sense of it. Any thoughts?

  15. alecfinn says:

    Yes a stroke can come from a clot but it still causes a back-up of blood in the brain that does the damage also it is something that may go undetected until there is damage perhaps from overheating and/or dehydration. Also seems to be implied in the above.

  16. alecfinn says:

    Where I work (civil service) WC is paid up to $400.00 a week medications and Drs as well as therapy. There are reviews for long term prooblems (I got hurt in 1993 and have a permanent injury) my case is reviewed every couple of years to make sure I am getting what I need as well as that I am actually in need of WC.

  17. Dave in Calif says:

    Alecfinn,
    You maybe correct, there was a civil servant (no disrespect, I worked for the DOD and VA for 23 years) I think was in France and he seemed a little slow, but when they did an MRI he had only half a brain yet still functioned. So you maybe correct he had, had stroke but was not of a magnitude to affect him, until this last event. However I don’t have all the particulars the lawyers on both sides had and argued to the jury and judge what all the facts really were at the time of his CVA. I”m just speculating on what “might” have occurred with these limited facts.

    Cheers folks, Dave

  18. alecfinn says:

    Dave
    Not offended or feeling any disrespect in fact I am amused.
    I see though……If you worked for DOD and VA you were also a Civil Servant.
    I am curious though is one of the points of your story that Civil Servants have half a brain?
    But just a note from someone that has worked also in private sector medical facilities (not restricted to Acute Care and Rehab. Facilities) half a brain should make someone a bit more than slow and the stroke might cause even more damage.
    The person you mentioned would have been extremely lucky to even walk not just appear slow. I wish all injuries had that great an ending. Including mine…………

  19. Dave in Calif says:

    alecfinn,
    You know, I just may have to have an MRI myself just to make sure it’s all there. And yes, you would think he would be more than just a little slow. I also think that was the gist of the writer about civil servants. However, like this case here, he may have had a slight blockage that occluded under stress/heat and higher than normal bp. I hope your injury can be can be delt with, with a good out come.
    respectfully, David

  20. Dave in Calif says:

    alecfinn,
    Here is the article, just googled it. Looks like he had less than 1/2 a brain.

    http://uk.reuters.com/article/2007/07/20/oukoe-uk-brain-tiny-idUKN1930510020070720
    The mind can accomplish some amazing adaptations.

    respectfully, David

  21. alecfinn says:

    +Thank You……… so much

    That is huge and so encouraging.

    Makes me feel my problems are miniscule…….

    It also is something everyone should read.

    I find people that are upagainst problems such as this are an inspiration…….As my better half was and many of the patients I see and have seen over the years.

    Never give up……Paul Newman said about a year before he died if you open your eyes in the morning the rest of the day is gravy.

    I tend to agree

  22. Dave in Calif says:

    alecfinn,
    Yes every morning is gravy, and every once in a while I check the obits for my name and photo…so far so good.

    Hang in!!!

    David

  23. Dave in Calif. & alecfinn, I pray you both have a relationship with Christ and thank him for every new day that He gives you.

  24. alecfinn says:

    My relationship with Christ and G-d is the most important relationship I have and I believe that to be true of all people. Although the people that do not help folk when thay can because “G-d” did not tell them to or G-d told them to start a war upsets me.

    I give thanx to G-d and Christ daily for my blessing, that does not mean I find folk as in the above article un-inspirational to the contrary knowing people who have overcome major life hurdles only strengthens my belief in G-d and Christ.

    It is what many force feed into us without thinking about what the “Good Book” actually says that I get upset with folk who insist I believe what they believe.

    I have never been able to blindly follow what others tell me I always have to read many sources and think about things………I hope this answers what I believe could be a sweet comment on your part

  25. Could we keep religion out of this discussion please? Think what you like, it’s admirable, but let’s keep this discussion about the article.

  26. Shonkin says:

    John Ruschak is reported to have high blood pressure, which was “under control.” A good many prescription drugs used to control blood pressure (including one I take) are diuretics. A side effect of any diuretic is dehydration, which can lead to heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
    (Yes, I know heatstroke is not the same thing as apoplexy. I am just bringing it up to warn others who take blood pressure medicines thaty they ought to drink more water than they might think they need under hot conditions. Heatstroke is a kind of shock. Going into shock can bring on a lot of other conditions.)

  27. alecfinn says:

    Aida Your Right

    Please Excuse

  28. Randy S. Kirkpatrick says:

    yes he should, the company was aware he had a medical condition and should have given him an area to work that was not going to aggravate his condition, his supervisor should have kept a better eye on his or her employees,as the Safety Officer should have also , its part of our job to see our employees are safe and that the work area is a safe environment,my worker work in High Pressure steam and boiler rooms temps arecan get very high, as the safety officer i make sure they only work 15 min, on and 15 min off with rest in a cool area and plenty of water, sounds like a failure on the Safety Officer,after all its our job.

  29. Thank you, Randy, for making a clear point. This is the type of case that makes it clear that a Safety Officer needs to be on top of the game and aware of all safety issues in all areas of the work environment. This S.O. failed the employee and the company–and now both are paying for that failure.

  30. That’s funny, I can’t find in the article stating their was a Safety Officer on site. Not all companies have one. You can’t blame the Safety Officer if there isn’t one.

  31. Randy Kirkpatrick says:

    Willy,
    Thats a good point, then i would have to say it falls to the forman/ Supervisor to watch over thier charge, Bottom line this company FAILED this employee, the fallout from this could be huge, they should have a safety officer and or at least a competent person on site to enforce thier companies safety program. IF THEY HAVE ONE!!, maybe SAFETY is of little or NO concern to this company, the cost of a safety officer and or compentent person is nothing compared to one employees LIFE or well being, as a retired combat military leader i know first hand about taking care of your men, after all its about getting the job done and done right without Casualties or fatalities, so at the end of the day we ALL GO HOME SAFE>wouldnt you agree??
    p.s. i find nOTHING funny about this.

  32. Randy Kirkpatrick, I do agree, that’s why I’ve been a Safety Director all these years. Also, your getting all wound up for nothing because when I posted “That’s Funny” I didn’t mean the article or the injury. Just the part about putting blame on a Safety Officer when there wasn’t one mention as I stated.

  33. John H Schwelm says:

    Always fun to write to these blogs. How many on this string are in fact Safety Directors or Managers. I would find that an interesting fact.
    I am a corporate Safety Director overseeing 3 companies. My comment is based on past experience and results. No opinions.

  34. RANDY KIRKPATRICK says:

    Willy,
    I’m not wound up, poor judgement on your part, just giving an opinion, but I thank you for your response.

  35. Randy Kirkpatrick, No poor judgement on my part. Your statement “I find nothing funny about this” is taken as you having an attitude and accusing me as thinking the injury was funny. No foul.

  36. Dave in Calif says:

    Guys…guys…cool it.

    The injured party was taken care of, as best as he will ever be able to.

  37. Randy Kirkpatrick says:

    dave i agree, its not personal , again if i had an attiude most of your 6 would be missing, its a blog nothing personal , the article also didnt state that there was NOT a safety officer, so again it was that comment that was in poor judgement, anyway lets just agree to disagree and be the professionals we are, go in peace grasshopper.

  38. kristian says:

    Great Article. Thanks for the info, super helpful. Does anyone know where I can find a blank employee report form to fill out?

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