When you think of a workplace injury, the first thing that comes to mind may be an accident, such as a fall, slip, or trip. But in fact, workers are more likely to be injured due to repetitive tasks over a long period than they are a sudden trauma.
Repetitive stress injuries affect millions of U.S. workers every year and result in significant missed work time. Although injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis should be covered by workers’ compensation when they’re caused by on-the-job activities, it can be harder to prove that these injuries are work-related.
Injuries From Repetitive Tasks Are Very Common
Repetitive stress injuries, also known as ergonomic injuries, musculoskeletal disorders, and cumulative trauma disorders, are among the most common workplace injuries. These injuries occur from repetitive microtasks—like clicking a mouse, sitting in a stationary position, using hand tools, or assembling components—that cumulatively stress or strain a part of the body.
Approximately 2 million U.S. workers suffer from repetitive stress injuries every year. About one-third of these workers require time off from work to recuperate and treat their injuries. The areas typically affected include:
- Fingers and thumbs
Some of the injuries associated with repetitive use are sprains, strains, tears, carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, intersection syndrome, rotator cuff syndrome, radial tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, bursitis, and hernias.
Why Cumulative Injuries Can Be More Complicated
Workplace injuries are often associated with a specific event. For example, a worker trips over an extension cord in the office and hurts their knee, or a stack of boxes falls on a warehouse worker and causes a head injury.
In cases like these, it’s easy to identify how the injury occurred, and workers’ compensation claims are relatively straightforward. The cause of injury shouldn’t be in dispute, since there was a particular occurrence (e.g., falling boxes) that is easily linked to a particular injury (e.g., a concussion).
Some injuries, however, result from the gradual accumulation of stress on the body. Clicking a computer mouse hundreds of times over the course of a day isn’t likely to injure you. Clicking a mouse hundreds of times a day over many months and years can be a different story.
On average, musculoskeletal disorders like sprains, strains, and tendonitis take three times longer to fully recover from than slips, trips, or falls.
One day at work, you might notice stiffness in your wrist. You don’t think much of it and work through the discomfort, which worsens as time goes on. Then, at some point, the pain becomes so bad that it causes you real difficulty. The symptoms are no longer transitory. They’ve become chronic, and even debilitating, interfering with your ability to work as normal—or at all.
According to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, pain or discomfort associated with ergonomic/cumulative stress injuries should be reported to a work supervisor. BWC says that early reporting can help to prevent chronic problems, lead to quicker identification of the injury’s root cause, and facilitate early care and faster healing.
Repetitive stress injuries not only take longer to manifest, but they usually take longer to resolve. While most workers’ comp injuries for a slip, trip, or fall take just 7 days for full recovery, musculoskeletal disorders like sprains and strains require an average of more than 3 weeks for full recovery, with an average cost of over $9,000.
Legal Help For Repetitive Motion Workers’ Compensation Claims
Cumulative stress injuries can affect all types of workers, from those in construction and warehousing to offices and manufacturing facilities. Even if you work from home, you could suffer an ergonomic injury and be entitled to workers’ compensation. As long as your injury occurred “in the course of employment,” your claim should be accepted.
Unfortunately, the issues outlined above related to timely reporting of stress injuries and proving that they’re work-related can complicate the claims process. If your claim for a repetitive injury has been disputed or denied—or if you’re considering filing this type of claim and have questions—Graham & Graham’s workers’ compensation lawyers are here to help.