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Domestic Workers Unprotected From Workplace Hazards, Law Professor Argues

By March 17, 2011July 18th, 2019Personal Injury

As a southern Illinois personal injury attorney, I was interested to see an article on unaddressed workplace hazards faced by domestic workers — people who work in other people’s homes. The paper by Washington University in St. Louis law professor Peggy Smith discusses hazards to workers including cleaners, childcare workers and home care workers for the disabled and elderly. As UPI reported March 11, Smith writes that workers in private homes are exposed to harmful chemicals, abusive employment practices and, in the case of home health aides, musculoskeletal injuries from lifting clients who need help with tasks like using the bathroom.
Smith, an employment law expert, makes her arguments in an upcoming paper for the Canadian Journal of Women & the Law. She cites a survey of California domestic workers in which two-thirds said they considered their jobs hazardous. Domestic workers who clean were more likely than industrial cleaners to report physical and respiratory reactions to cleaning chemicals, and were more likely to use cleaners that had irritants. Home health aides also reported more health problems than their counterparts in hospitals and nursing homes. In fact, Smith wrote, this category of worker reported more debilitating musculoskeletal problems than any other group of U.S. workers, including steel mill workers and coal miners. She called on the federal government to ensure workers are better trained, placement agencies to inspect homes and private employers to provide safety equipment like rubber gloves.
I might go even further, as a St. Louis personal injury lawyer, and suggest guidelines or even regulations from OSHA about basic safety for domestic workers. As the press release from the university notes, domestic workers are completely exempt from federal workplace safety laws — which accounts for much of the disparity in health outcomes between domestic workers and their industrial counterparts. Going through a placement agency alleviates only some of those concerns. Domestic workers who are injured or sickened on the job may be able to hold their employers responsible for creating hazardous conditions (sometimes through homeowners’ insurance), but a set of guidelines would provide clear safety standards, giving employers a guideline for compliance and workers more assurance that their basic safety is being protected.

If you have been injured through someone else’s carelessness, you should talk to Carey, Danis & Lowe right away about your rights and your legal options. All of us have a legal duty to take reasonable care for others’ safety, whether that means creating a safe workplace or carefully watching the road as we drive. Failing to do this can lead to catastrophic or disabling injuries, including head injuries, chemical exposure, torn ligaments and muscles or even death. Our Missouri personal injury attorneys help clients who have suffered those serious injuries through no fault of their own hold the wrongdoer legally liable for the results. That includes the financial results — medical bills, long times out of work and more — as well as physical injuries, emotional trauma and any permanent disability or disfigurement.
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