How can I Prevent a Workplace Strain Injury?

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Workplace Strain Injury

When one thinks of workplace injuries, images of broken bones and neck braces might come to mind. Although these can be very serious and commonplace, repetitive strain injuries and other strain injuries can also be significant, causing a lot of pain and doctor visits, as well as lost time from work. Employees who experience injuries these may end up needing treatment and might be unable to return to work temporarily or even permanently.

Understanding Repetitive Strain Injuries

Repetitive strain injuries (RSI) are also referred to as repetitive motion injuries. These permanent or temporary injuries occur when someone performs the same motions repeatedly and injures muscles, nerves, tendons, or ligaments. Also called microtasks, these small motions do not require strenuous effort, and the problems build up over time. The most common kind of RSI is carpal tunnel syndrome. Others include bursitis, tendinitis, tenosynovitis, thoracic outlet syndrome, ganglion cyst, and Raynaud’s disease.

With so many people working from home recently at their computers, more and more workers are finding that they have RSI from using their keyboards, touchscreens, and mouses all day long. However, these are not the only employees who end up with these injuries. Repetitive strain injuries are caused by other jobs in which workers hold awkward postures for long periods, must do frequent lifting and carrying, use vibrating equipment, or do other kinds of repeated microtasks. Some of these kinds of jobs include the following:

  • Bus drivers
  • Grocery and stock clerks
  • Plumbers and pipefitters
  • Janitors
  • Nurses and other health care professionals
  • Cleaners
  • Musicians
  • Firefighters
  • Professional athletes
  • Meat processing and agricultural workers

Carpal tunnel syndrome can occur when there is too much pressure on the median nerve, which is the main nerve in the forearm. The carpal tunnel is in the palm and is a narrow passageway that is surrounded by ligaments and bones; the median nerve runs through the carpal tunnel and provides nerve signals and sensations in the hand. As the median nerve becomes compressed because of repetitive hand motions, the person can feel considerable weakness, tingling, and numbness of the arm and hand.

Raynaud’s disease is different than carpal tunnel syndrome and affects the fingers, toes, and other body parts to become cold and numb. This happens because small arteries that supply blood to the skin narrow, which limits blood flow. It could happen to people who frequently work in very cold environments, such as freezers. Aside from the coldness and numbness, there may be a prickly feeling or pain when the area is warmed up or color changes to the skin, which can turn white.

What are the Other Kinds of Strain Injuries?

The National Safety Council (NSC) points out that the one of the three main causes of work-related injuries are overexertion and bodily reaction. The other two are slips, trips, and falls; and contact with objects and equipment. Overexertion/bodily reaction are considered non-impact injuries, when too much physical effort such as lifting, carrying, and turning is directed at an outside source like a heavy box.

When employees experience bad strains and sprains in workplaces, the injuries are usually related to lifting and material handling. These can build up over time like RSI but can also happen suddenly and cause acute pain. Slips, trips, and falls can cause life-threatening injuries such as spinal cord damage, but when someone moves abruptly to avoid a fall, they can seriously hurt themselves and end up with a strained or sprained muscle or tendon. Although workers can overexert themselves while lifting and carrying heavy items, poor posture, high task repetition, and environment factors can cause strains and sprains. Other causes include falling to lower levels and workplace violence.

The NSC also posts that the populations who are most at risk for strains and sprains are warehousing and transportation workers, and those between the ages of 45 and 64.  The injury rate is about 27 for every 10,000 full-time employees, with an average of 13 days lost at work. The most common sprains and strains happen to the back, shoulder, knee, ankle, and arm; followed by the wrist, hands, neck, and foot.

How can These Injuries be Prevented and Treated?

An RSI or other type of work-related strain or sprain can take a long time to heal, but there are ways to prevent them from developing. Good posture is very important and will reduce the amount of stress on the body. Getting a supportive chair and ergonomically designed office furniture and supplies can be very helpful. Many workers are now using standing desks, which can be moved up and down to alternate between sitting and standing. Headsets are good for reducing the amount of strain on one’s arms, neck, and shoulders. It is also beneficial to avoid sitting with the legs crossed; to keep feet flat on the ground; and to have the forearms, wrists, and hands aligned with the thighs, parallel to the floor. Taking frequent breaks is also important, whether it be to flex and wiggle the wrists and fingers, to do stretches, to take a quick walk, or to meditate for 10 minutes.

Keeping in good physical shape is also one of the best ways to prevent strains and sprains from happening. Being overweight, smoking, and never exercising are all risk factors for these injuries. Also, anyone who lifts and carries materials must learn and practice the proper handling procedures. Muscles have to be warmed up, especially when they have not been in use. To lift an item, the worker must stand near it, bend at the knees, get a good grip, and lift the item slowly, drawing strength from the legs instead of the back. Safe working conditions and following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations are also key to avoiding any kind of jobsite accidents.  Here are a few more tips:

  • When typing, the hands should float over the keyboard, while moving the arms and keeping the wrists as straight as possible.
  • Heavy items should often be moved with tools and equipment rather than human strength alone.
  • Anyone who has to stand a lot in one place, such as cashiers and toll collectors, can benefit from an anti-fatigue mat.
  • Extension poles can be connected to cleaning tools in order to prevent arm and shoulder strain.
  • Employees, including supervisors, should be trained on proper methods for lifting and moving objects.
  • Workplaces should have enough staff to cover the workloads, to prevent employees from overexerting themselves.

About Workers’ Compensation in Maryland

Employees who suffer work-related injuries in Maryland are covered by their employers’ Workers’ Compensation policies. This coverage provides for medical costs and lost wages for work-related injuries and illnesses. It also provides for repetitive injury, including carpal tunnel syndrome. The benefits can also pay for rehabilitation, physical therapy, disability, and funeral costs.

Maryland employers are required to carry Workers’ Compensation insurance, and not doing so can lead to a $10,000 fine. However, companies and their insurers often delay or deny valid Workers’ Compensation claims. The Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission offers resources for employees, including materials, forms, and tools to check on claims. The Public Claim Data Inquiry is another way to find out information on a claim. When problems arise and these resources do not provide the needed help, the best course of action might be to contact a qualified Workers’ Compensation lawyer.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton can Help with a Repetitive Stress, Strain, or Sprain Injury Claim

RSIs, strains, and sprains may not be obvious or even detectable by other people, but employees with these kinds of injuries can experience significant, ongoing pain that hampers their ability to work and could lead to ongoing medical care and related expenses. If you need help with any kind of Workers’ Compensation claim, do not hesitate to contact the knowledgeable Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will review any case, help our clients receive the compensation they need, appeal denied claims, and navigate a difficult situation in which their employer or the insurance company engages a lawyer. Call us at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online for a free consultation.

Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.