In the last year, the rate of face mask-related workplace injuries has risen according to data obtained from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.
On one hand, this finding isn’t surprising considering the many face mask mandates implemented across a wide number of industries and companies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to WebMD, from 2016 to 2019, there was an approximate average of 200 mask-related injuries among US workers. In 2020 alone, this number soared to nearly 5,000. This is an increase of nearly 2,400% in a single year.
In the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Dr. Gerald McGwin Jr. stated that “[p]rior to the COVID-19 pandemic the use of respiratory protection equipment was largely limited to healthcare and industrial settings. As [face mask] use by the general population increased, so too have reports of dermatologic reactions.”
Data collected revealed that the most common injuries from mask usage were dermatitis (28.3 percent of claims) and lacerations (10.1 percent of claims). The most common areas that were injured by mask-wearing were the face (72.5 percent), head (8.2 percent) and fingers (8.1 percent).
As for who was more often injured by mask-wearing, women were more likely to suffer from mask injuries. Research also indicated that the races were equally represented across mask injury cases.
Among the injuries, the most common were allergic reactions/rashes (38 percent), poorly fitting masks (19 percent) and obscured vision (14 percent).
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has offered guidance on curbing the number of mask-related injuries by helping people choose the proper style and fit of face masks.
Are mask injuries covered by workers’ compensation?
Arizona is a ‘no fault’ state when it comes to workers’ compensation. This means that regardless of who is responsible for a work injury, the injured worker is entitled to compensation. Although a vast majority of face mask injuries are minor, having to wear a mask for an extended period of time in the workplace can lead to serious long-term health problems in rare cases—specifically when affected workers suffer from chronic dermatitis.
While most cases of occupational dermatitis (or contact dermatitis) may not result in a life-changing injury, it will often require a patient to see a dermatologist for treatment.
Contact dermatitis is a condition that occurs when allergens come into contact with the skin. These allergens can include many different components of a face mask such as the fabric, dye, elastic bands, etc. Allergens may also get trapped between the mask and the skin, causing irritation.
If your employer is requiring you to wear a mask at work and you experience contact dermatitis that requires treatment from a dermatologist, you should be eligible to receive compensation for your medical bills.
The benefits made available for injured workers in Arizona fall into 3 main categories:
Of the 3 categories of benefits that are available to injured Arizona workers, compensation for medical expenses is most common in cases of face mask injury and occupational dermatitis. Anyone who suffers an on-the-job injury is entitled to have their medical bills fully compensated.
Medical expenses that may be covered include:
- Doctor’s visits
- Emergency room visits
- Hospital visits
- Medical exams
- Physical therapy
- Reimbursement for medical appointments and travel to appointments
Wage loss and disability
Another type of compensation available to injured workers is reimbursement for lost wages and disability. An injury caused by a face mask isn’t likely to be severe enough to cause a disability or missed days at work; however, if it were, an injured worker would be entitled to 2/3rds of their average monthly wage. These benefits are available up to the maximum amount that the state allows, which changes every year.
It’s highly unlikely that anyone would die on the job from wearing a face mask, but in the event that such an event occurs, Arizona workers’ compensation would provide death benefits to the deceased’s surviving family. Typically, employers pay surviving family members up to an average of 2/3 of the deceased worker’s usual monthly salary. Additionally, the deceased’s employee’s family is generally paid up to $5,000 for burial and funeral expenses.
Death benefits are paid to surviving family members for a varied length of time based on the relationship of the survivor to the deceased.
It may seem unnecessary to go through the hassle of filing a workers’ compensation claim for a treatable condition like dermatitis; however, some cases can be quite serious and uncomfortable—and the medical bills can quickly add up. Moreover, if you are required to wear a face mask for an extended period of time, which leads to you developing occupational dermatitis—or your employer provides a mask that causes a serious allergic reaction— then you could be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.