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The Obesity Epidemic and Workplace Safety

The American Society of Safety Engineers recently held a Safety 2014 conference. Among the issues discussed at the conference was the dramatic increase in the rate of obesity and the impact that a more obese workforce will have on workplace safety. human-jaws-434803-m.jpg

When workers are heavier, they face different types of risks on the job and are in greater danger of experiencing certain kinds of workplace injuries. With more than a third of the U.S. population currently classified as obese, employers need to account for the special needs of this large portion of the workplace. When a worker gets hurt on-the-job, the injured employee should consult with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer for help.

How Obesity Impacts Workplace Safety

Workers with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher face a higher risk of specific types of on-the-job injuries including:

  • Heat stress. Heat stress is fatal 3.5 times more often in people who are obese than in individuals who are classified as having a normal weight. A person who is obese is less able to dissipate heat and there is more stress on his cardiovascular system. Excess heat can also cause obesity-related medical problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure to get worse.
  • Fall injuries. Workers who are overweight may not be able to move as easily, which results in obese workers falling twice as frequently as workers who are considered normal weight. When an obese worker falls, he or she is also more likely to experience more serious injury.
  • Confined-space entry hazards. When obese workers are in a confined space and an emergency occurs such as a stroke or a heart attack, it could be impossible for other workers to have room to get into the space in order to perform a rescue.
  • Fatigue-related injuries. Workers who are obese are at greater risk of sleep problems such as sleep apnea. This can result in excessive daytime drowsiness, which can result in injuries especially in workers who operate machinery or who have to use tools or work at elevated heights.
  • Repetitive stress and overexertion injuries. When an obese worker has to lift heavy items at work, his extra weight magnifies the force from the lifting. An obese worker may also have a more constrained range-of-motion than a worker who is thinner and thus may be more likely to experience an overexertion injury.

Finally, another major concern is that personal protective gear may not be available in an appropriate size for obese workers. For example, most fall protection equipment is rated only to support people who weight up to 310 pounds. This would be insufficient for an obese worker.

Employers need to be aware of these special risks that are faced by overweight workers and must do everything possible to ensure that the entire workforce is protected. An obese worker who gets hurt on-the-job should consult with an experienced attorney for help making a work injury claim to obtain benefits.

If you are injured on the job in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation claim: 1-888-367-2900.

More Blog Entries:

New England Job Safety Watch: Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss, June 13, 2013, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog