Supermarket worker awarded compensation after foot injury led to aggravation of cystic fibrosis

A worker who suffers cystic fibrosis has been awarded compensation for a lung transplant he needed as a result of a foot injury while at work, despite not telling his employer of his long term illness.

The worker suffered a fractured foot when he jammed it between an electric pallet jack and barrier while working as a trainee manager in a supermarket chain. Because he was immobilised because of the injury, he was unable to do his normal amount of exercise which helped keep his lungs clear of the mucus which is symptomatic of cystic fibrosis.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal ruled that the foot injury was a substantial cause of the worker’s health decline which led to him needing an emergency transplant in Melbourne.

The Tribunal overturned an initial decision by Return To Work SA to refuse the worker compensation for any illness after the initial foot injury. Tribunal deputy president Judge Margaret Kelly heard that the worker had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was three years old.

The genetic condition affects cells in the body and can result in mucus forming in the lungs as well as persistent chest infections. The worker’s main treatment for the illness was exercise to prevent a build up of mucus in his lungs as well as drainage exercises.

“(The worker’s) evidence was that he tried to keep his condition and its treatment private,” Judge Kelly said in her published judgment. “The coughing up of mucus before it has a chance to build up in the respiratory system is an important aspect of the daily treatment plan.

“This is perhaps not the most pleasant thing to see and (the worker) felt it would be disconcerting to customers to see him coughing up sputum.”

Judge Kelly said that as a result of the worker’s desire to keep his condition private he did not tell his employers of the serious illness. “He freely admits that he did not mention his cystic fibrosis to anyone at his workplace and did not declare it when completing a form entitled ‘Disclosure of Pre-Existing Injuries’,” she said.

On February 17, 2017, he injured his foot while using an electric pallet jack. His claim for compensation relating to the time off for the foot injury was accepted. But in the months after the injury the worker was left unable to exercise and his lungs began to fail.

The possible need for a lung transplant had been raised with the worker before, but it went from a possibility to a necessity. In August 2017, the worker went to Melbourne for a transplant and stayed there for several months to recover.

Return To Work SA and the supermarket chain argued that the worker’s lung function had been decreasing before the accident because of a 2016 viral infection.

Judge Kelly found for the worker and ordered he be paid compensation for the lung transplant as well as weekly payments while incapacitated.

Source: The Advertiser

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