Dramatic workplace accidents don't cause all work-related injuries. Over time, physically demanding and repetitive tasks may cause gradual damage known as repetitive trauma. This trauma includes diseases and injuries that affect the muscles, bones, nerves, tendons and respiratory system. Employees may receive workers' compensation for repetitive trauma, but unfortunately, it isn't always a guarantee.
Thanks to the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act (IWCA), employees with work-related repetitive trauma are entitled to compensation in Illinois. However, as every Crystal Lake worker compensation attorney knows, the law distinguishes between gradual and sudden injuries. Employers only pay lost wages and medical expenses if a repetitive trauma claim meets several specific criteria.
Common Causes of Repetitive Trauma
Repetitive trauma is a common but costly occupational hazard. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), it actually costs employers whether or not workers' compensation claims are filed. The agency revealed that American workers took 1,162,210 paid days off in 2013 to recuperate from occupational injuries and illnesses. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) made up 33% of these injuries, but the rates were higher for specific professions.
The BLS ranked these high-risk occupations according to a few different criteria, including the average number of days off. The following professions landed at the top of their list:
- Nursing assistants
- Freight and material movers
- Heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers
- Registered nurses
- Stock clerks
- Maintenance workers
- Light and delivery truck drivers
- Retail workers
- Maids and housekeepers
These occupations represent a wide variety of skill levels and industries, but they all require repetitive tasks that cause long-term damage. According to The Occupational Ergonomics Handbook, some of the job duties that cause musculoskeletal disorders include:
- Lifting people or heavy objects (hospital patients, moving boxes)
- Using a computer without proper posture and ergonomics
- Standing, kneeling or sitting for long periods of time
- Bending over and stooping down
- Using hand tools
- Operating vehicles or power tools that vibrate the whole body
- Task that require extreme focus (focused workers may neglect to correct poor posture)
Better posture and more efficient workplaces can prevent some repetitive trauma. However, workers with repetitive job duties cannot opt out. Instead, they should be diligent about injury prevention and monitoring symptoms.
Reporting Requirements and the Statute of Limitations
The IWCA holds employers accountable for their employees' work-related health problems. These include sudden injuries and illnesses, as well as long-term conditions caused by repetitive trauma. Of course, it's up to each Crystal Lake worker compensation attorney to prove that a claim meets the requirements outlined in the act. When the injury is repetitive trauma, the Statute of Limitations is perhaps the most important.
A sudden workplace injury occurs at a single point in time. Employees must inform their employers as soon as possible, giving details that include the exact date of their injury. Repetitive trauma doesn't happen on a specific date, but workers still need to give notice. According to the IWCA, they must alert employers when they first notice symptoms that could be work-related.
Proper notice is important because early detection may prevent injuries and conditions from getting worse. If employees wait until their symptoms are too severe to work, their workers' compensation claim may be challenged. Early notice makes it easier to survive the litigation process.
Of course, accurate information is essential for any workers' compensation claim. An Illinois prison guard recently demonstrated this when he won a high-profile legal battle over a prison fight injury. He successfully proved that he deserved a year off for the job-related injury. However, he also hoped to receive compensation for repetitive trauma to his hands, wrists and elbows. The court dismissed his claims because of misleading and inaccurate information about his actual job duties.
Obstacles that Prevent Workers from Filing
Repetitive trauma is a common occupational hazard, but many suffering employees never receive compensation. In fact, research suggests the majority of eligible workers never even file a claim. Why do so many workers shy away from reporting their work-related diseases and injuries?
In 2000, the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine published a study that tried to answer this question. More than 1500 participants answered surveys about their work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). They all suffered gradual injuries to their necks, backs and upper extremities because of repetitive trauma at work. However, only 25% actually filed for workers' compensation.
The researchers studied this minority and found eight factors they had in common:
- Increased severity of condition
- Obvious decline in health status
- Doctor's orders to limit physical activity
- Type of doctor (surgeons, orthopedists, physical and occupational therapists)
- Time off work (odds of filing increase after taking at least 7 days off)
- Longer duration of employment (employed more than 21 years were most likely to file)
- Lower annual income (less than $40,000)
- Dissatisfaction with coworkers