An effort to make staph infections a viable occupational disease is underway, with Illinois lawmakers enacting legislation in 2021 and New York considering similar measures this year.
Caused by the bacterium methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, staphylococcal infections are common in healthcare settings, where they are reimbursable under the Occupational Injuries Act in many states. The latest trend, however, is to look at exposure among first responders.
“This is just a natural outgrowth of what you see in employee competency assumptions,” said Brian Allen, Salt Lake City-based vice president of state affairs, pharmacy solutions, for Mitchell International Inc., a company in the Enlyte Group. “Staph infections are another emerging issue,”; he said.
Illinois HB 3662, which became law last year, added MRSA to the list of presumptive conditions affecting several classes of first responders, including emergency medical technicians. A bill to improve pensions for firefighters suffering from MRSA infection was sent to the governor in April.
New York SB 9210, introduced on May 12, would provide disability pension benefits for first responders who are “physically unable to perform the service” as a result of staph infection. A similar bill – AB 4574 – was presented to the State Assembly in January. Both bills have remained in the committees.
The bills follow presumptive laws for covid-19 workplace infections in more than a dozen states over the past two years and hard-to-find mental injuries, heart disease, respiratory diseases and cancer presumption laws passed over the past decade. There is “a lot of attention on presumption bills” and “you will probably see more of these,” said Mr. Allen.
Greg McKenna, Rolling Meadows, Illinois-based national public sector practice leader at Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., said: “Some of (these terms) are uniquely tailored and fit the increased level of exposure” for these workers. “Given the nature of the work … I could see a direct connection,” he said.
Still, the problem is that MSRA – like many infectious diseases – can be found practically everywhere, said Mr. Allen. “A third of the population carries staph bacteria,” he said.
A presumption turns the burden of proof on the employer to prove that the employee did not get the staphylococcal infection at work. Such infections are difficult to treat, and a worker suffering from such can not be in the workplace, said Mr. Allen.
Christy Thiems, Chicago-based senior executive compensation officer for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, called some of the recent presumptions about staph “unnecessary” because such infections affected by certain workplaces are not difficult to detect.
“Verifying that an injury occurred out of and during employment is critical to ensuring prompt benefits for injured workers,” Thiems wrote in an email. “Should a first responder suffer an infection during his employment, it would probably be verifiable, so there is no need to add an additional presumption to the Occupational Injuries Act for specific medical conditions.”