Filed Under:Markets, Workers Compensation

Smoking Kills….Equipment, Too

A call from an adjuster who was frustrated about having to replace a $9,000 low air-loss mattress after only two years prompted a full investigation of an injured worker’s ongoing medical care and rehabilitation program.

The claimant was a 48-year-old man who was severely injured in 1982 in a fall while working on a construction job.  

Deemed quadriplegic with C1 to C4 fractures, he has no use of his legs and minimal use of his arms, and uses a power chair. He has had chronic wounds for the past 15 years and has been treated at numerous clinics. As his health deteriorated, he has spent more time in bed, and turning him is an issue due to his weight. 

Gumming Up the Works
The bedridden claimant was a chronic smoker, as were the other four adults living in the house. Second-hand smoke contaminates equipment just like it does the human body. The poisons and chemicals in the smoke can damage any equipment, but air mattresses are especially vulnerable.

A vacuum pump pulls air from the room and holds it inside the mattress until the air gently bleeds out through tiny holes in tube-like chambers. In this case, the pump was sucking in and retaining second-hand smoke. 

Reduced air flow was causing the engine to work harder and fail faster than it should.  Trapped smoke was circulating inside the mattress, its nicotine drying out the vinyl, plastic and nylon inside the chamber, just as it dries out the skin. The lining was becoming brittle and cracking. 

The air that was managing to trickle out was noxious, second-hand smoke, comprised of 4,000 chemicals—at least 200 known poisons—and many carcinogens. The claimant’s skin was trying to expel these toxins, but it was a tough fight because of the constant exposure to poisons. 

A Positive Outcome
Fortunately, in this case the injured employee came to understand how second-hand smoke was damaging his mattress and committed to stop smoking. Of course, all the other people in the house needed to stop smoking around the bed, too. 

The dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke are well known. Wounds, fractures and back fusions take longer to heal, physical therapy is more difficult, and smokers are susceptible to upper respiratory infections.

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