Many workplace injuries occur as a result of a single or sudden incident. But some workplace injuries develop over time from minor, repetitive movements that are performed on a frequent basis. Fortunately, employees can recover from these types of repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) through the workers’ compensation system.
What is a Repetitive Stress Injury?
For an RSI to develop, the individual action need not be difficult, physically challenging, or harmful by itself. But when that one motion is repeated several times in a day, and over the course of weeks, months, and years, the combined effect can take a serious toll on a worker’s health. An RSI can leave a worker in considerable pain and unable to perform routine job tasks and simple life functions, such as raising an arm or bending over.
There is no single, precise legal definition of the term repetitive stress injury (RSI). In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the agency responsible for enforcing federal workplace safety laws, there are more than 100 different types of job-induced injuries and illnesses that result from wear and tear on the body.
Repetitive stress injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, are one of the largest sources of workers’ compensation claims nationwide. Assembly line jobs, in particular, have a high incidence of repetitive motion injuries, including bursitis, tendonitis, and carpal tunnel.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful progressive condition caused by the compression of a key nerve in the wrist, the median nerve. This nerve, which controls the sensations and nerve impulses for much of the hand, passes through a narrow passageway of ligament and bones called the carpal tunnel. When swelling causes the median nerve to be compressed in the tunnel, numbness, tingling, and pain can result. Left untreated, hand muscles can deteriorate, making it difficult to grasp objects or perform other work with the hands.
Types and Symptoms of Repetitive Stress Injuries
There are numerous different types of work-related Repetitive Stress Injuries including:
- Computer: Injuries to hands and arms from computer activities caused by repetitive keyboarding motions which potentially damage muscles, joints, and tendons. Injuries can include carpal tunnel, bursitis, and tendonitis.
- Construction: Injuries from repeated lifting, reaching or use of heavy tools.
- Assembly Line: Assembly line workers required to sit or stand for prolonged periods or perform repeated movements of fingers, hands or arms.
The symptoms of RSI can range from mild to severe and usually develop gradually. They often include:
- pain, aching or tenderness
- tingling or numbness
At first, an individual may only notice symptoms when they are carrying out a particular repetitive action. But without treatment, the symptoms of RSI may eventually become constant and cause longer periods of pain.
Workplace Repetitive Stress Injuries
It is important for employees to pay attention to the warning signs of an RSI so that it can be caught and treated as early as possible. Employees should report any measurable job-related pain, loss of motion, flexibility or strength, tingling or numbness, or similar bodily discomfort. Taking care of the condition while it is minor is far better than waiting until it causes a great deal of harm. Further, workers’ compensation laws prohibit employers from firing or disciplining employees for filing claims, so an employee can report their injury without fear of penalty.
How Workers Compensation Can Help
Workers’ compensation is designed to pay for injured workers’ lost wages and medical bills. Workers’ comp will also continue to pay for necessary medical expenses related to an injury after an employee returns to work. Unlike a personal injury claim, though, workers’ compensation does not provide compensation for pain and suffering from the injury. Most any injury, if it occurs on the job, is covered by workers’ comp, even if the injury was the workers’ own fault.
Because workers’ comp covers such a wide range of work-related injuries, an important key in a workers’ comp case is establishing that the injury occurred on the job. In some cases that is quite easy, but repetitive stress injuries take time to develop, so it is often more difficult to establish that an injury like carpal tunnel syndrome is work-related.
Carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries can take a worker away from his or her job for days, weeks, or even permanently. Accordingly, it is important to both seek medical help and to seek workers’ compensation to help pay for any loss of income and medical expenses.
Pennsylvania law limits the amount of time a worker has to notify his or her employer of an injury if the worker wants to receive workers’ comp benefits – but this can be difficult to determine in the case of a repetitive stress injury. The best idea is to notify an employer as soon as a problem becomes apparent, and seek medical treatment and legal advice shortly thereafter. Working with the Pisanchyn Law Firm’s workers’ compensation attorneys, who have extensive experience in the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system, can help to ensure your rights and interests are protected.
Call 1-800-444-5309 today for your free consultation. We have offices in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Scranton and Pittsburgh and will travel to you.