Are Repetitive Stress Injuries Covered by Workers’ Compensation?

Often, when people think of a workplace injury, they imagine a single accident, such as an employee falling and sustaining a head injury. In reality, many injuries covered by workers’ compensation develop over time as a result of minor, repetitive movements that are performed over a period of months or years. These types of injuries are known as repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) and are also compensable under Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws. Although their cause may not be as dramatic as a single, isolated accident, RSIs are painful and can be extremely debilitating, so if you or a loved one live in or near Augusta and suffered a RSI as a result of an activity performed on the job, it is critical to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can protect your interests and help you seek the compensation you deserve.

Development of RSIs

For a RSI to develop, an action does not necessarily need to be dangerous, physically challenging, or complex. Instead, RSIs can be sustained as a result of a simple motion that is repeated several times a day over the course of a period of time. Eventually, the combined effect of this repeated movement can take a physical and serious toll on a worker’s health and ability to continue working. In fact, RSIs often leave employees in so much pain that they cannot perform daily tasks or simple functions, such as bending over or raising an arm. There is no single type of RSI and according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are more than 100 types of work-induced injuries and illnesses that result from prolonged wear and tear on the body.

At-Risk Occupations

The increased occurrence of repetitive stress injuries can largely be attributed to the use of computers in the workplace across all industries. Whether used for creating spreadsheets, recording inventory, or organizing bills, almost all types of businesses require at least some use of a computer. It is unsurprising then that some of the most common types of RSIs involve injuries to the hands, arms, and wrists as a result of computer use. Repeating the same keyboard motions at high speeds, frequently using a mouse, or utilizing a touch screen can all cause potential damage to a person’s muscles, joints, and tendons.

There are a variety of conditions that result from these types of movements, including:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome, which involves swelling tissues in the wrists, which in turn, causes nerve swelling;
  • Bursitis, which is the result of the swelling of small sacs of fluid between the bones; and
  • Tendonitis, which results from tears in the tissues connecting muscles to bones.

While office workers may be the most obvious group of people who are at-risk of suffering a RSI, there are many other types of workers who could develop similar problems. For example, those employed in the construction or manufacturing industries are often required to repeatedly lift objects or reach for and use heavy tools, which over a period of time could cause the development of a repetitive stress injury. Cashiers are also often victims of RSIs as a result of having to scan hundreds of items a day. Other workers who have a high likelihood of developing RSIs, include:

  • Assembly line workers;
  • Shelf stockers;
  • Mechanics;
  • Musicians;
  • Butchers;
  • Meat packers; and
  • Drivers.

Workers employed in these industries are all required to sit or stand for long periods of time and perform repeated movements involving the fingers, wrists, and hands.

Preventing RSIs

RSIs can make simple movements excruciatingly painful, so it is important for at-risk employees to take steps to avoid these types of injuries. Specifically designing a workstation is one of the best way to minimize the risk to workers. For example, employees who spend a lot of time at the computer can adjust the angle, height, and position of their computer screens, which will help avoid straining the neck. Keyboard rests can also go a long way towards relieving strain on the arms and wrists. It is also critical to take breaks at regular intervals in order to give muscles and tendons a rest. Stretching exercises, maintaining good posture, and varying tasks throughout the day are also important tools for reducing the impact of repetitive motions on the body. Even employees who don’t work in an office can benefit from regular breaks, stretching, and attempting to break up repetitive tasks throughout the day.

Diagnosing RSIs

RSIs are often difficult to detect in their developing stages. For this reason, it is especially important for at-risk workers to keep an eye out for certain warning signs, including:

  • A loss of strength in a body part;
  • Aches and pains in the limbs;
  • A loss of flexibility;
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers and arms;
  • Fatigue; and
  • A loss of coordination.

If an employee begins to notice these types of symptoms, he or she should immediately record the date of onset as well as the time of day the pains usually occur and what types of activities are the most painful to perform. Workers should also immediately notify their employers, so that they can begin the process of filing a workers’ compensation claim. Part of the filing process requires an estimate on the date of onset, which can be difficult to pinpoint in RSI cases, where trauma may have occurred over a period of years. This makes it doubly important for  employees who suspect that they have a RSI condition to carefully document the symptoms, file a claim, and seek medical attention as soon as possible. This will help the doctor diagnose the problem, but will also enable him or her to suggest therapy or the use of a brace to stop the problem from progressing.

Contact an Experienced Augusta Workers’ Compensation Attorney 

Workers’ compensation laws were enacted to help compensate employees for injuries sustained on the job. Fortunately, this is not reserved for one time accidents, but also applies to injuries sustained over a period of years, so if you live in or near Augusta and you suffered a repetitive stress injury, please contact the law firm of Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. by completing and submitting one of our standard contact forms and we will assist you in scheduling a free consultation with a dedicated workers’ compensation attorney who can help you file a workers’ compensation claim.