During the last week or so, I have been totally engrossed in the Olympic Games. The United States teams have been so impressive in their athletic abilities. Michael Phelps, Ryan Murphy, Simone Manuel, Katie Ledecky, Lilly King, and Simone Biles all won individual gold medals. The men’s and women’s swimming relay teams and the women’s gymnastics team also won gold. Kayla Harrison won gold in judo and Kristin Armstrong won gold in cycling, as well as so many others. As I write this column, our country’s athletes have won 70 medals, including 26 gold. We as a nation could not be more proud of our Olympians.
As in any sporting event, the majority of athletes competing in the Olympic Games will not win any medals. However, that does not negate the fact that they can proudly call themselves Olympic athletes. The phrase “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” comes to mind as the dreams of many athletes are dashed. While it can be disappointing for the athletes who do not come home with a medal, some athletes will leave with more than shattered Olympic dreams. In weight lifting, an Armenian athlete dislocated his elbow during competition, and two cyclists crashed during a race, both sustaining serious injuries. Most horrific was the incident where a French gymnast broke his leg during the men’s vault qualification. It is unknown whether these athletes will recover from their injuries sufficiently enough to ever compete again.
Not all of us are fortunate or talented enough to compete in Olympic sporting events. For the majority of us, our personal best entails having a job or career, raising a family, or going to school. For those of us in the workforce, we assume that we will leave for work and return home safely. Sadly for some, this is not the case. According to the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), in 2014 a total of 203 New Yorkers died on the job – most of them in the construction field – and the vast majority of fatal accidents occurred on non-union sites with immigrant workers.
As an attorney who has represented injured workers for more than 25 years, I have seen too many of these cases. Education, training, and workplace safety measures go a long way in preventing many of these fatalities. Unions provide excellent programs to ensure worker safety, but sadly there are many workers who don’t have union protection. It is therefore imperative for us to know how to prevent worksite injuries in the first place and if you find yourself injured on the job, there are things you must know.
First, seek medical treatment immediately, and be sure to tell the doctor or hospital that you were injured on the job as you are not responsible to pay for your medical treatment. Your employer has a workers’ compensation carrier that is responsible for any and all treatment; you should never pay out of your own pocket. The name of the insurance carrier must be clearly identified in a public area such as a kitchen or locker room. Next, be sure to notify your employer within 30 days of your injury. They may request that you fill out an accident report. Ask for a copy. Lastly, you must notify the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board within two years of your accident. Employers are represented by their insurance carriers and if you sustain a serious injury, you should consider having knowledgeable representation as well.
Most of us don’t consider work an Olympic event. Some of us – like me – are lucky enough to love what we do and be surrounded by great partners and co-workers. Some of us work as a means to an end, but all of us want to be able to support ourselves and our families, educate our children, and enjoy a nice vacation. Being healthy and injury free, financially secure, and surrounded by friends and family beats a gold medal any day.
Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.