Auto mechanics in Illinois are regularly exposed to unique job-related hazards, and their injury rates reflect this. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data available, mechanics suffered over 15,000 injuries in 2005 alone. This figure only reflects illnesses or injuries severe enough to result in time missed from work. The number of injuries that went unreported or caused delayed effects was likely even greater.
The same data shows that, out of all occupations, mechanics suffered the fourteenth highest rate of injuries requiring time away from work in 2004 and 2005. As any workers compensation attorney knows, these workers also face an above-average risk of catastrophic or fatal injuries. Sadly, these injuries are often difficult for mechanics or their employers to prevent because they originate from many different sources.
Sudden acute injuries
Mechanics often suffer acute injuries, such as cuts and burns, while using tools or handling automobile parts. These injuries frequently occur when tools or parts fall, break or malfunction. According to the 2005 BLS data set, 44.5 percent of all mechanic injuries involved contact with objects.
In a 2011 study published in Industrial Health, mechanics reported cuts more than any other injury. However, mechanics may also suffer from burns, fractures and limb loss. The use of gloves, safety goggles and steel-toed boots may prevent some of these injuries. However, safety protocols often vary between garages, leaving some workers exposed to hazards. Furthermore, as a workers compensation attorney might note, protective gear cannot prevent every injury.
Exertional and stress injuries
Repetitive trauma injuries, such as back injuries, are also common among mechanics. These injuries accounted for one-fifth of all injuries that mechanics reported in 2005, according to the BLS data. Lifting heavy objects, such as tires or engine parts, is a frequent cause of these injuries. Over half of the overexertion injuries that mechanics suffered in 2005 occurred under these circumstances.
Even when mechanics are not straining their joints and muscles to lift heavy objects, they may be at risk for musculoskeletal injuries. To access different vehicle systems or parts, mechanics often must work bent over or in even more contorted positions. These stooped or twisted postures can strain the back, neck and other parts of the body.
Some repetitive stress injuries can be avoided through team lifting procedures. The use of specialized machinery to move heavier objects can also help protect mechanics from injury. However, musculoskeletal injuries that occur due to an awkward working position may be more difficult to address.
Illnesses from exposure
Mechanics usually work with harsh cleaning chemicals, gasoline additives and other potentially harmful substances. In severe cases, these substances may cause skin burns, organ damage, vision loss or toxic poisoning. Additionally, mechanics may face even more severe complications if they are exposed to asbestos or lead.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, some brakes and clutches used today contain asbestos. As any workers compensation attorney knows, even brief exposure to this substance creates a risk of respiratory illness and cancer. Garages that perform work on brakes or clutches over five times per week must take measures to mitigate this risk. However, other garages are not explicitly required to do so.
Mechanics may also work with various products that contain lead, including vehicle batteries, paint and welded parts. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, lead exposure can result in anemia, kidney disease and neurological damage. The buildup of lead in the body can also cause seizures or death. OSHA requires all employers to take precautions when lead exposure exceeds set levels, but garages may not always reach this threshold.
Injured workers’ rights
These working conditions and hazards may cause mechanics to suffer costly, debilitating and even permanently disabling injuries. Fortunately, workers’ compensation benefits may be available to mechanics who are hurt while working as employees in Illinois.
Under the state’s no-fault workers’ compensation laws, an employee or employer’s fault in a workplace accident is typically irrelevant. However, injured mechanics must clearly prove that their injuries or illnesses arose directly in the course of their jobs. If a claim is approved, an injured worker may receive medical benefits to cover various costs, including:
- Medical treatment, such as surgery, emergency care and ongoing care
- Rehabilitative treatment, including physical therapy and chiropractic visits
- Ongoing treatment to manage the illness or injury, including prescriptions and medical appliances
- Measures needed to address permanent injuries, such as prosthetic devices and home modifications
Mechanics who cannot work at full capacity or at all because of a work-related injury or illness may receive temporarily disability benefits. Vocational rehabilitation may be available to mechanics who are left unable to perform their jobs. Those who have suffered permanent and severe injuries may also qualify for permanent disability benefits.
To receive workers’ compensation benefits, mechanics must report and claim their injuries within state deadlines. In general, injured workers most notify employers within 45 days and file claims within three years. Workers who develop occupational illnesses must give notice as soon as the illness and its origins become apparent. Generally, these workers must file claims within two years of the last date of exposure to the hazard or substance. In cases of asbestos exposure, however, workers have an additional year to make their claims.
Unfortunately, people who miss these deadlines cannot pursue compensation. To reduce the risk of delays or other issues, injured mechanics may benefit from partnering with a workers compensation attorney. An attorney may be able to assist a mechanic in documenting a claim and meeting all other legal requirements during the claim process.