An Adelaide woman has won workers compensation because of a throat injury caused by the use of hand sanitiser at the school she worked at from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The woman’s condition was made worse because of students’ use of perfumes and deodorants, especially when a girl sprayed a scent through a portable fan.
The South Australian Employment Tribunal also ruled that the woman — Tracey Reimers — should be reinstated in her job the Department for Education.
She will also be paid for work lost and medical expenses that began in April 2020.
Ms Reimers had worked as a school support officer at Hallett Cove School since 2013, but in 2020 she was assigned to years 10–12 rather than younger students.
She had had trouble with irritation to her throat before, but found it much worse among the older students, who she said seemed like they were bathing in deodorant, perfume and aftershave.
On April 28, 2020, and again a week later, she breathed in fumes from hand sanitiser that been introduced to the school because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She felt like she had of something stuck in the back of her throat and always needed to cough.
The condition — known as laryngeal sensitivity — was relieved by a Botox injection to her throat in August 2020, but the treatment was not nearly as successful after Ms Reimers breathed in mist from a fan a girl had brought into a classroom in February 2021.
She described the mist as having a sweet floral smell that caused her throat to feel tight and her voice to become quiet and squeaky.
She worked on and off at the school, but in September 2021 the department decided she could no longer continue on modified duties. She then left her job.
Judge rules injury caused by exposures
The department had originally accepted Ms Reimers’ claim from April 2020, but rejected it altogether in December 2021 after being granted access to her medical records.
It argued that Ms Reimers already had a sensitive throat and sometimes had a hoarse voice, starting in 2001.
However, the tribunal’s deputy president, Tony Rossi, said in his decision published yesterday that those incidents appeared to have cleared up after a few days, unlike the incidents in 2020 and 2021.
He said the incidents in April 2020, May 2020 and February 2021 caused Ms Reimers’ throat injury while she was working.
“The exposure to specific chemicals in the workplace was at least a significant contributing cause, as an important and influential cause, of the laryngeal sensitivity,” he ruled.
“There is no finding of any other significant contributing cause to any of the three episodes of laryngeal sensitivity.”
He overturned the department’s determinations opposing compensation and reinstated its original determination to accept the work injury claim.
Source: ABC News