Login Register Subscribe
Current Issue

Nurse allergic to floor wax qualifies for workers comp

Reprints

A Pennsylvania nurse should receive workers compensation benefits for exposure to a floor wax that caused her to have breathing problems, even though she has since moved on to a new part-time job and is no longer experiencing asthma symptoms, a Pennsylvania appellate court has ruled.

Nancy Little worked as a registered nurse for Select Specialty Hospital and began to have breathing difficulties in April 2010, according to court filings. She received treatment at a nearby emergency room, her breathing improved, and Ms. Little returned to work a few days later.

Ms. Little experienced breathing problems at work again in May 2010 and noticed that a housekeeping employee was waxing the facility's floors at that time, records show. She was again treated at a local emergency room, and did not return to work for nearly three weeks.

She experienced another episode of breathing trouble that needed emergency room care in August 2010, and Ms. Little did not return to work for Select Specialty after that, according to records.

Ms. Little sought total disability workers comp benefits in October 2010 for the three weeks that she missed work in May and June of that year, as well as for the time that she had been unemployed after leaving Select Specialty, records show. However, her employer denied that claim.

Ms. Little accepted a part-time job with Altoona, Pennsylvania-based Altoona Hospital in November 2010, and explained to her new employer that she left Select Specialty because she was allergic to the floor wax used by that facility. Records show that Altoona Hospital, which used the same floor wax, changed to a different product and that Ms. Little has not experienced breathing problems since then.

Based on testimony from Ms. Little and a toxicologist, a Pennsylvania workers comp judge ruled in January 2012 that Ms. Little suffered disabling occupational asthma due to her exposure to di-isocyanate, a chemical in the floor wax used by Select Specialty, according to filings. The judge granted Ms. Little's request for workers comp benefits for the weeks she missed work or was unemployed after her second and third asthma episodes.

The judge also awarded partial disability benefits to Ms. Little from November 2010 to February 2011, the date when an evaluating physician determined that Ms. Little had fully recovered from her occupational asthma, filings show.

Ms. Little appealed, arguing that she should continue to receive comp benefits from Special Select because she was unable to return to full-time work after leaving the facility, representing a loss of wages for her, records show. However, the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Appeal Board denied her appeal, finding that her asthma had resolved and that she failed to show that she suffered a residual impairment from her work at Special Select.

A three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court unanimously reversed the board's decision on Wednesday. While Ms. Little's asthma has resolved, doctors representing her and Special Select acknowledge that her condition was caused directly by exposure to di-isocyanate in the workplace. Additionally, doctors have found that she should avoid further exposure to the chemical to prevent future asthma attacks.

Ms. Little's continued sensitivity to the floor wax chemical and her inability to return to her pre-injury work environment entitled Ms. Little to additional workers comp benefits, the appellate court found.

A “claimant need only show the aggravation arose in the course of employment, the aggravation is related to the employment, and that the claimant cannot return to the work place because the aggravation will most probably recur,” the court's ruling reads.