November 26, 2022

Senate Bill 26: How Will It Affect Colorado Dispatchers?

4 min read

Dispatchers have an incredibly crucial, but often overlooked, job. Much focus is placed on what people see and physically experience during traumatic events and emergencies. However, dispatchers are in many ways the first on the scene in these situations. Although they are not in physical danger, they are immediately placed in the midst of the crisis. Not only must they listen to what is happening; they must also correctly interpret the events occurring, while at the same time assembling first responders. Oftentimes, they also must tell those with whom they’re speaking what to do in the moment, in order to ensure the best possible outcome. Dispatchers are often overworked and underpaid, considering how important they are to the nation’s emergency response systems. Therefore, they are already often under a lot of stress, compounded by the individual emergencies they may be responding to.

However, dispatchers often don’t receive the support they need following traumatic work events. They may deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but do not have the ability to properly do so. This is because, while Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be covered under worker’s compensation, it has typically only been covered for employees who visually see a traumatic event, versus those that hear it over the phone. Therefore, dispatchers have not been able to receive the compensation and treatment that they need. They’ve been forced to seek treatment and take time off without being compensated, or alternately ignore the issue entirely. This can lead to long-term psychological damage, which is often debilitating and may eventually prevent a dispatcher from returning to work permanently. Fortunately, Colorado is taking the steps necessary to ensure that dispatchers receive the compensation necessary. This is being accomplished through a senate bill, which should have long-reaching effects for dispatchers.

What Is Senate Bill 26, And How Does It Aid Dispatchers?

The Colorado Senate recently gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 26. This bill affects dispatchers in that it extends worker’s compensation to workers that have experienced audible exposure to serious bodily injury or death. Previously, worker’s compensation was already extended to those that experienced PTSD in general, but the condition’s association with visual experiences meant that dispatchers were often left without aid. A dispatcher cannot, of course, seek worker’s compensation without evidence or reason. They need to be diagnosed with work-related PTSD by a psychiatrist or psychologist. It’s key to dispatchers that the effects of auditory trauma are not only taken seriously by employers but by society in general. Remember that 15% of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have high-frequency hearing loss, all due to the exposure to loud sounds. Auditory experiences are just as intense as visual experiences, and those who suffer from PTSD need support through worker’s compensation.

Why Is Worker’s Compensation Important To Colorado Employees?

Worker’s compensation is often associated with slip and fall accidents and personal injury lawsuits. Often, employees don’t pursue worker’s compensation because they don’t realize that it applies to their conditions. 2015 saw over 20,000 workplace slip and fall injuries reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This occurred solely in California, with thousands of other injuries being reported across the country. The fact is that many employees are eligible for worker’s compensation, both in terms of physical traumas and those that cause long-term mental health issues. Worker’s compensation allows employees to seek out financial compensation that will help pay for their treatments, as well as the money that they lose due to their debilitations preventing them from working. For example, a recent study revealed that a worker’s compensation claim for snow- or ice-related injuries usually pays out to an average of $48,000. Payouts can range widely depending on the type of injury involved and its long-term effects, The fact is that some injuries are more difficult to return from than others, and require different levels of compensation.

How Is Worker’s Compensation Funded In Colorado?

Senate Bill 26 means that more people will receive worker’s compensation; this means that some state residents are concerned about how it will be funded. Colorado requires that all public and private employers provide worker’s compensation already. However, worker’s compensation insurance must be paid by the employer his or herself. In turn, the insurance coverage can be bought through a commercial insurance carrier, or through self-insurance programs. Self-funded insurance programs either involve insurance being funded through an individual or through groups or pools. The premium cannot at all be deducted through the employees’ wages. Furthermore, employers have certain other obligations to fulfill. They must keep a record of all occupational injuries or diseases that cause lost time, and report all lost time injuries to insurers within 10 days. Of course, employers must also provide a safe working environment first and foremost. Depending on the type of work environment the employer is providing, OSHA has certain expectations regarding workplace safety, and does perform regular inspections. Additionally, employees are encouraged to report any unsafe situations or environments to OSHA, even if they must do so anonymously. Ultimately, it’s important for Colorado residents to remember that they are protected by worker’s compensation, and that worker’s compensation is funded through employers’ investments in insurance. With that being said, as of now there is not a good estimate of how much Senate Bill 26 will cost state and local agencies. There will likely be an influx in dispatchers filing claims, as they previously were unable to do so. Furthermore, dispatchers are government employees, which makes their circumstances a bit different.

This bill should be viewed as a positive thing. Dispatchers should be recognized for the important work that they do, and should for that matter be aided through worker’s compensation. They experience traumatic events on a regular basis, and must be able to receive treatment without financial strain. This will make it easier for those that can be treated to return to the job.

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