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  • Repetitive Stress Injuries

    Workplace injuries are usually associated with a single workplace accident, such as a fall from scaffolding, a chemical eye burn, or a serious truck accident. These types of workplace accidents draw more attention, as they can be catastrophic and life-altering. However, not all work-related injuries are the result of a sudden, isolated incident. Many injuries attributed to work develop over time from the cumulative effects of smaller, repetitive movements that are performed on a regular basis.

    Studies indicate that repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) account for about 60 percent of all workplace injuries. Job-related tasks such as inputting computer data, using handheld tools, or maintaining certain postures may not appear outwardly dangerous. Over time, however, these repeated motions can lead to painful and debilitating injuries that can impact a worker’s ability to do their job.

    Employers should take necessary steps to protect their workers from RSIs, but unfortunately, not all of them do so. Fortunately, these common types of injuries are covered under Workers’ Compensation.

    Who Is at Risk for a Repetitive Stress Injury?

    The increased use of computers across most industries over the last few decades likely correlates with the increased occurrence of work-related RSIs. Large corporations, small businesses, and retailers all use computers for essentially everything, including data entry, generating bills and paychecks, and performing inventory.

    The following types of workers are most at risk for RSIs:

    • Computer workers: Doing repetitive activities, such as using a computer keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen, can damage muscles, joints, or tendons in the hands, wrists, and arms. Typing at high speeds and making quick movements with little break time can increase the chances of developing a RSI.
    • Factory workers: Employees who work on an assembly line, or do jobs that require repeated lifting and reaching to stock shelves, are at high risk for developing RSIs. Workers with jobs in factories or plants are most likely to do work that is repetitive.
    • Construction workers and contractors: The regular use of heavy power tools can lead to serious damage to the arm and wrist. However, the repeated activity does not need be strenuous to cause a RSI. Even relatively light hammering by hand, such as a roofer might do on hundreds of nails every day, can overwork certain muscles over time and result in a painful RSI.
    • Delivery workers: Workers who spend all day driving, going up and down steps, and lifting and moving heavy objects are especially prone to RSIs. Delivery workers often develop RSIs involving the knees, shoulders, and arms that eventually require treatment.
    • Cashiers and retail clerks: These workers quickly lift, turn, and scan items with bar codes countless times during every shift. Some workers use hand-held scan guns that require repeated wrist, arm, and shoulder movements as well. Many checkout counters are not properly adjusted to each employee’s heights and other specifications. All of these actions can lead to RSIs.
    • Professional athletes: Sports such as golf and tennis involve all kinds of repetitive movements. Many athletes are tall and/or muscular, however, this does not mean they are at a lower risk to incur a RSI. In many cases, the damage from a sports-related RSI can be very serious and require surgery.
    • Bank tellers: These employees, as well as others with similar job tasks, make repeated movements whether they are standing or sitting at work. Maintaining certain postures while on their feet at a teller window or hunched over a computer inputting customer account information can lead to a variety of types of RSIs.
    • Salon workers: Hairdressers, nail technicians, and massage therapists are all prone to painful posture issues related to being on their feet or sitting down all day. These workers do a range of repetitive movements at their workplaces.
    • Musicians and mechanics: These occupations require prolonged periods of standing or sitting, and moving their bodies in various ways on a regular basis. Both kinds of workers perform repeated movements of their arms, hands, and fingers, which can lead to a RSI.

    What Are Common RSIs in the Workplace?

    RSIs are common in operators of vibrating hand tools to office assistants who maneuver mouses all day. There are certain RSIs that frequently develop on the job and require some form of treatment, including the following.

    Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

    Carpal tunnel syndrome is likely the most well-known RSI and affects millions of American workers each year in all industries. It results from pressure on the median nerve, which is located on the palm on the hand, and runs down the arm and through the wrist. This nerve controls movement and sensation in the first three fingers and thumb.

    A tingling sensation in these areas while performing job duties is a sign that an employee may have carpal tunnel syndrome and should seek medical attention. While carpal tunnel syndrome can involve serious chronic pain, it is quite treatable in most circumstances.

    Bursitis

    Bursitis is a painful condition that involves swelling of fluid-filled sacs called “bursae.” These small sacs cushion the tendons and bones in large joints in the hips, elbows, and knees. When these sacs become irritated and inflamed, bursitis can occur in the shoulder joint area as well. For example, if a shoulder is used repeatedly to operate a piece of machinery, it may be prone to bursitis.

    Workers with jobs that require heavy lifting are prone to bursitis in the shoulders and knees as well. The injured joint is typically more painful during use but can also cause pain at night, causing workers to lose sleep.

    Tendinitis

    Tendonitis is another RSI workers can experience if a repetitive motion causes one of their tendons to become inflamed or irritated. Tendons connect muscles to the bone. When they are overused, they can become swollen, which often leads to tears and inflammation.

    Symptoms of tendinitis include pain and lack of mobility in the affected area that gradually worsens if the condition is not treated. Job tasks related to cleaning, painting, carpentry, and gardening are known to lead to tendinitis in workers. The treatment of tendinitis typically requires time off from work and rest to heal.

    De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis

    De Quervain’s tenosynovitis affects a worker’s ability to grip objects, and it can be caused by any workplace activity that relies on repetitive hand or wrist movements. It involves inflammation of the tunnel containing the two tendons that control the movement of the thumb.

    Common symptoms of De Quervain’s tenosynovitis include pain and swelling at the base of the thumb and in the lower arm.

    Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

    This condition is caused when the nerves that run through the space between the lower neck and first rib get compressed. Repetitive movements, such as typing on a computer, lifting things above the head, and working on an assembly line, can all contribute to thoracic outlet syndrome. Thoracic outlet syndrome can also be caused by maintaining poor posture all day in the workplace.

    Serious pain in the shoulders and neck, as well as numbness in the fingers, are symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome and signs that an employee should seek medical treatment.

    Are RSIs Covered by Workers’ Compensation?

    Injured employees frequently do not know their rights in workplace under Pennsylvania law. If an employee’s job caused any type of injury, illness, or disease, they are eligible for Workers’ Compensation. It does not matter if the injury was the result of a sudden catastrophe or a medical condition that developed over time. A health hazard can also involve how something reacts with the body or deteriorates a part of it over the course of many years.

    Notice of RSI to Employer

    Providing notice of incurring an injury in the workplace is always important because it triggers the employer’s obligation to pay Workers’ Compensation benefits. Benefits cannot be paid unless the employer knows or has reason to know that the claimed disability is related to a workplace injury. This can be tricky with RSIs since they develop over time, but makes it no less important to provide notice of the injury.

    As soon as a worker has signs or symptoms of a RSI, it is imperative they provide notice of the injury to their employer and seek medical treatment. Although an employer might try to fight the claim that it is a work-related injury, it is not too late to give notice when you have to miss work and seek medical attention to get treatment.

    Keep in mind that if an employee calls work to report that they are disabled from a work-related injury, they must tell their employer they hurt themselves at work. A claim will likely be denied if an employee simply tells their employer they are ill or hurt and cannot come to work. It must be reported that the employee is disabled because of the injury at work and indicate when and how it happened to the best of their ability.

    repetitive stress injury

    Worker’s Compensation Over Group Benefits

    Sometimes, workers are told by their employers to apply for group insurance benefits, which also are called “sickness and accident benefits,” or “short-term disability.” However, these disability benefits to which you are entitled if they had a non-work-related injury or illness. If an injury or illness is even partly work-related, the employee should apply for Workers’ Compensation benefits.

    Workers’ Compensation benefits are more advantageous than group benefits for many reasons, including:

    • In Pennsylvania, Workers’ Compensation benefits are usually higher than group benefits.
    • They are not subject to income tax, while taxes are deducted from group benefits.
    • Workers’ Compensation total disability benefits continue as long as the disability continues. Group benefits have limits and are only paid for a maximum period of 26 weeks, usually less.
    • If an employee is receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits and returns to work at a lower rate of pay because of their injury, they are entitled to weekly compensation benefits equal to two-thirds of their pay loss. Group benefits programs do not provide for partial benefits.
    • Workers’ Compensation provides a comprehensive coverage of work injury medical expenses. Medical payments under group benefit programs are limited, often leaving injured workers with out-of-pocket medical expenses.
    Galfand Berger Icon Because RSIs involve cumulative trauma, meaning it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact date of injury, is important that employees file a claim as soon as they detect symptoms. It is also a good idea to consult with an experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer to assist with what can be a complicated claims process.

    Why Should You Have a Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Lawyer?

    It is important to have an experienced Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyer who knows all of your rights and ensures they are protected. Suffering an injury at work can be life-altering in many ways. It is natural to feel overwhelmed trying to heal from an injury while unable to work and stressed about your income.

    There are several steps involved in the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation claims process and, unfortunately, not all employers and insurance companies are quick to provide employees with the benefits they are entitled to by law. An experienced Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation lawyer can walk you through every step of the claims process, determine any potential pitfalls in your legal matter, and advocate for you in the event of an appeal.

    It is never advisable to represent yourself in a Workers’ Compensation case because employers and insurance companies are usually represented by their own legal team, which puts you at a major disadvantage. Even under relatively uncomplicated circumstances, it is a good idea to at least consult with a skilled Workers’ Compensation lawyer to prevent any ramifications.

    Deadlines

    In Pennsylvania, are several deadlines for filing claims, appeals, and other detailed paperwork for Workers’ Compensation cases. Missing these deadlines, or filing forms incorrectly, can jeopardize your benefits.

    You have 120 days to report an injury to your employer. The time begins from the date the injury occurred, or the date you knew or should have known of a RSI or other work-related health condition.

    Notice must be given within 21 days of the date of injury to be paid from the first date of disability.  If you give notice between the 21st day and the 120th day following your injury compensation is payable only from the date you gave notice.  Your employer has 21 days after you report your work injury to decide whether or not they will accept your claim.

    Medical Treatment

    In addition to making sure that all necessary documents are filed in a timely manner, an experienced lawyer will know how to develop medical evidence that properly documents your injury. Relying on the independent physicians who perform exams for insurance companies is just one common and costly error committed by claimants who choose to represent themselves.

    Employers and insurance companies can even try to eliminate an employee’s Workers Compensation benefits all together by requesting specific medical examinations or finding vocational experts to assert that they are ready to go back to work, even when that is not the case. A lawyer understands the relevant laws, can make sure you receive the level of medical treatment you need for your injury, and knows how to protect your rights.

    Third Parties

    In many Workers’ Compensation cases, there are third parties involved in the cause of a work injury, which often means an additional settlement for the injured worker. It is common for manufacturers, distributors, and other drivers to be found liable for work injuries, leading to multiple lawsuits. An experienced lawyer will know how to identify liability and handle all possible claims.

    A knowledgeable lawyer can provide you with guidance as to the best course of action for your particular case. They will be able to review your entire case and ensure that you obtain the maximum amount of benefits you are entitled to, including medical expenses and past and future lost wages.

    Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Can Help You if You Have a Work-Related RSI

    If you have a RSI due to your work, one of our Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP can answer your legal questions and review your case. Call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we proudly assist clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.