Which Long-Term Disability Claims Increased Over the Past Decade?

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Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), also known as repetitive motion injuries, are injuries that affect the musculoskeletal system, including the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, disks, and blood vessels. MSDs are responsible for close to 30 percent of all Workers’ Compensation costs in the United States. According to a recent survey conducted by Unum, an insurance company that also tracks and publishes data about worker disability claims, the number of long-term disability claims for MSDs has increased by 40 percent overall, and by 62 percent in men over the past 10 years. These claims are especially prevalent among workers who are required to perform significant heavy lifting, repetitive motion, or prolonged sitting. Fortunately, employees who suffer from work-related MSDs may be eligible to collect Workers’ Compensation benefits.

The study found that there are a range of physical and biological factors that can increase the risk of MSDs, including obesity, the age of the employee, and lack of activity. According to a spokesperson for Unum, employers should take the following steps to prevent future long-term disability claims associated with MSDs:

  • Focus on the importance of workplace ergonomics as part of an effective corporate health and wellness program.
  • Create incentive and reimbursement programs for employees who go to the gym regularly, or who are participating in a weight loss program.
  • Create a return-to-work strategy that allows workers to gradually return to work on a full-time basis after being on disability.
  • When an employee is returning to work after being on disability, provide flexible work hours, part-time work, job-sharing, and other flexible scheduling options.

Examples of Workplace MSDs

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS): According to the Department of Labor, CTS is the compression of the median nerve at the wrist. This can cause numbness, tingling, weakness, or muscle atrophy in the hands and fingers. Each year, close to two million people suffer from CTS, resulting in up to 500,000 surgeries performed.
  • Back injuries: This is one of the top 10 reasons why workers seek medical attention. Back pain becomes a chronic issue in up to 10 percent of patients. The occupational groups that make up over 50 percent of back injury cases include operators, fabricators, and laborers, as well as precision production, craft, and repair workers. According to scientific studies, lower back pain can be reduced by making engineering controls more ergonomic, adjusting work schedule and workloads, creating programs that help modify individual risk factors, or a combination of these approaches.
  • Arthritis: This is a condition that affects the joints, the tissue surrounding the joints, and other connective tissue. Roughly 46 million Americans have been diagnosed with the condition, and it is the most common cause of disability in the country. Arthritis is particularly prevalent among workers in the mining, construction, agriculture, and service industries as a result of the amount of heavy lifting, exposure to vibration, prolonged periods of kneeling, crawling, or other awkward postures, and the increased risk of joint or tissue injury.

Examples of Common MSDs

There are a wide range of MSDs that can cause discomfort and even chronic pain. In extreme cases, they can lead to long-term disability. Examples include the following:

  • Tendinitis
  • Ligament strain
  • Degenerative disk disease
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Ruptured/herniated disk
  • Mechanical Back Syndrome
  • Rotator cuff tendinitis
  • Tension Neck Syndrome
  • Trigger finger/thumb
  • Muscle/tendon strain
  • Radial Tunnel Syndrome
  • Thoracic outlet compression
  • Sciatica
  • Fibromyalgia

What Causes MSDs?

MSDs are generally caused by either work-related or individual-related risk factors.

  • Work-related risk factors: If a worker is expected to perform duties that put a strain on his or her body, this can put the musculoskeletal system at risk for injury. The following are the three main ergonomic risk factors:
    • High-task repetition: Certain types of work tasks are very repetitive, and workers are often under pressure to complete these tasks to meet hourly or daily production goals. Repetitive motions, combined with high force, awkward postures, and other risk factors, can cause MSDs. A highly repetitive job is one that has a cycle time of 30 seconds or less.
    • Forceful exertions: Certain jobs expose workers to high force loads on the body. When the body is forced to use greater muscle effort, this increases the level of fatigue, which can lead to MSDs.
    • Repetitive or sustained awkward postures: These types of postures can put a great deal of stress on the joints, as well as the muscles and tendons around the affected joint. Joints operate most efficiently when they operate closest to the mid-range motion of the task. When the joints are worked outside of this mid-range for a sustained period, it increases the risk of MSDs.
  • Individual-related risk factors: Examples of these include the following:
    • Poor work practices: When workers use poor lifting techniques or body mechanics, there is a greater risk for MSDs. The added stress on the body causes increased fatigue and limits the body’s ability to fully recover.
    • Poor health habits: Workers who smoke, drink too much, are overweight, or have poor lifestyle habits are at a greater risk for developing MSDs. In addition, they may develop other chronic diseases that could have a negative impact on their overall health.
    • Poor rest and recovery: When workers do not obtain enough rest, their bodies do not have the chance to recover from fatigue, which can cause a musculoskeletal imbalance. This increases their risk of developing MSDs.
    • Poor nutrition: Workers who do not eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, and do not get regular physical activity, are at an increased risk for developing other chronic health problems, as well as MSDs.

What are the Costs Associated with MSDs?

According to Science Daily, roughly 127 million Americans suffer from MSDs, which results in approximately 400,000 injuries annually. The costs associated with treating these injuries is close to $213 billion each year. These injuries are entirely preventable if employers and employees work together to reduce the common MSD risk factors.

What Should My Employer Be Doing to Prevent MSDs?

Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment for all workers. To reduce the risk of MSDs, employers should take the following steps based on the specific task:

  • Conduct training seminars for specific tasks.
  • Provide ergonomic aids whenever possible.
  • Avoid manual handling tasks.
  • Make sure that containers or barrels that have movable contents are clearly marked.
  • Provide trolleys, dollies, or other similar devices for heavy materials.
  • Eliminate obstacles and uneven ground.
  • Offer chairs, tables, scaffolding, and other equipment that can be adjusted.
  • Set time limits when awkward postures are unavoidable.
  • Avoid assigning tasks that require workers to kneel, crouch, or squat for an extended period.
  • Encourage job rotation, job diversification, or job enrichment to reduce the risk of injuries caused by repetitive tasks.
  • Create scheduled breaks for workers.
  • Make sure that tools are within reach.
  • Provide handles or grips that can be used in both the right and left hand.
  • Supply arm supports for workers who spend a significant amount of time at the computer.
  • Make sure that all work areas are well lit, and that all surfaces are clean, dry, and free from debris.
  • Designate a space where employees can go to stretch, flex, and prepare their body for the next task.

What can I Do to Reduce the Risk of an MSD?

Workers can also take proactive step to prevent MSDs in the workplace, including the following:

  • Lift heavier objects as close to the body as possible, using both hands, and avoiding lateral bending or twisting.
  • For particularly heavy loads, use cranes, lifters, hoists, or other similar devices to help transport the load.
  • Do not push or pull heavy objects with one hand.
  • Change posture regularly to activate different muscles. Alternate positions between standing and sitting postures.
  • Avoid static positions.
  • Always use the appropriate tools for holding objects.
  • When working in a seated position for an extended period, stand up and walk around when possible.
  • Stretch the arms, legs, back, and neck before and after strenuous work.
  • Always use the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the specific task.
  • Make sure that the body is close enough to carry out the task within reach.
  • When lifting a heavy or unwieldy load, enlist another worker to help.
  • Get enough sleep.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Secure Maximum Benefits for Workers with Musculoskeletal Disorders

If you or a loved one is suffering from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), you are urged to contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. If you suffer from chronic pain and discomfort from an MSD, you may be eligible for long-term disability benefits. Our skilled legal team will walk you through the claims process and secure the maximum financial benefits you deserve for your injuries. Protecting your rights is our top priority, and we will continue to fight for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online. Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.