Workers Compensation for Lifting Injuries
Your body just wasn’t designed to perform some of the lifting and moving duties often required in a labor-driven workplace. Despite your physical strength, tasks such as moving heavy construction materials or loading and unloading large cargo items can strain critical body parts. Nonetheless, the object’s weight isn’t always a factor contributing to injury. Injuries often occur when workers engage in repetitive lifting, rely on traditional lifting techniques, or perform awkward lifting-related activities Lifting is a common factor in workplace musculoskeletal injuries. Musculoskeletal conditions adversely affect the body’s soft tissues and skeletal structures. A work-related lifting injury may only cause a few lost days from work or potentially lead to a long-term disability. The types of lifting activities that generate these injuries are typically hard to avoid. Often, they are the mandatory duties of many jobs that require continuous or occasional physical labor. When not at work, you can control whether or not you lift, carry, or move heavy objects. It’s a different story when your job requires heavy lifting. At work, you must comply with your employer’s expectations to bring home a paycheck. Employees in labor-intensive occupations must understand that lifting injuries are often an occupational hazard. These easily preventable hazards can be controlled by workplace standards implemented by employers, including:
- Learning and understanding potential lifting hazards in the workplace,
- Training employees to use proper techniques and precautions,
- Providing assistance devices, and
- Establishing a two-employee system for lifting heavy objects.
Don’t Ignore the Pain
While workplace lifting injuries often appear random and unreasonable, they are usually your body’s reaction to a stressful physical event. The strain of lifting sometimes affects your body in ways you might not anticipate. If your job requires lifting duties and you feel an unfamiliar pain, don’t ignore it. Work-related injuries requiring medical treatment or time off work to heal will be covered by your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. However, insurance carriers will only pay your medical expenses and injury-related wage losses if you promptly report the incident. Lifting injuries sometimes cause sudden and severe pain. Sudden pain is often unanticipated, and can be surprising when it occurs while performing familiar tasks. On the other hand, lifting injuries are not always immediately identifiable. For instance, you may only feel a slight twinge as you complete a full shift of familiar repetitive tasks. At other times, lifting injuries manifest themselves similarly to some whiplash injuries. Noticeable discomfort may not appear until hours or days after suffering a lifting injury. In instances where the pain onset is delayed, it may be difficult to recognize the connection to a work-related incident. No matter how your injury presents itself, you must notify your employer as soon as you recognize that your condition is work-related. Florida’s Worker’s Compensation Statute, §440.185, provides only 30 days from the “…initial manifestation of the injury…” to notify your employer of your claim. Failure to notify your employer within 30 days may prevent you from making a claim entirely. However, the statute provides a few exceptions to the 30-day notice requirement. You may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim after 30 days if:
- You needed medical confirmation of a work-related injury. In this case, you are required to notify your employer within 30 days of the doctor’s diagnosis.
- You already reported your injury to your employer or your employer’s agent such as a supervisor, manager, or general contractor.
- Your employer failed to post signage explaining the company’s lack of benefits entitlement as established in
- Your injuries were endured under exceptional circumstances as outlined in the Worker’s Compensation Statute.
How Lifting Injuries Occur
Lifting injuries occur when you overexert yourself while picking up an item for use or transport to another location. In some injury descriptions, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also includes “lowering” an item as a potential cause of injury. In 2017, the BLS documented 97,990 lifting/lowering injuries. Some BLS statistics only report injuries resulting in missed days at work; thus, the actual number of injuries is potentially much higher. Lifting risks can vary depending on the industry. Sometimes a worker’s injury is the result of simple lifting. Other injuries may result from a combination of awkward body positions. For example, lifting and carrying lifted objects away from the body, repetitive bending, twisting movements, or lifting and holding items in place to perform installation tasks.
OSHA Lifting Guidelines
- The basic factors in determining lifting guidelines
- The General Duty Clause
- A link to OSHA’s Ergonomics Guide
- A link to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Ergonomic Guidelines for Material Handling
OSHA workplace guidelines neither accept nor reject situations that encourage lifting injuries. In addressing heavy lifting issues, OSHA fails to provide specific rules to prevent excess weight lifting requirements. Rather, an employer’s lifting-related duties are outlined in the General Duty Clause, Section 5 of the OSHA Act of 1970. The provision outlines an employer’s duty to furnish, “…employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees….” In essence, it is the employer’s responsibility to establish safe lifting guidelines.
Does Your Job Put You at Risk for Lifting Injuries?
The BLS documents musculoskeletal injuries‒primarily back injuries‒as the most common type of injury across all industries. In many industries, lifting is a common workplace task, which frequently results in musculoskeletal injuries. Despite the risks, employers may continue to utilize manpower because they value task completion and cost savings over employee safety. Injuries may also occur when employees are allowed to set personal workplace lifting standards. For many employees, lifting and lowering risks are an integral part of their jobs. Employers often require employees to perform heavy lifting and lowering jobs alone, although sharing the workload would be a safer option. Companies can reduce the risk of work-related injuries by providing dollies, hand trucks, or other mechanical lift and transport devices. Employers should do research, set reasonable lifting standards, and provide safe lifting technique training for affected employees.
Interestingly, registered nurses (RN) sustain lifting injuries at higher rates than manufacturing and construction employees, working jobs traditionally considered high-risk. The BLS November 2018 “Monthly Labor Review” discusses how RNs endure high numbers of sprains, strains, tears, and other traumatic back injuries. While RN’s injuries occur for a variety of reasons, 27.7 percent of lost-time claims involved musculoskeletal issues due to “overexertion and bodily reaction,” often from lifting and moving patients.
Nursing Home Employees & Hospital Workers
Similarly, workers in nursing homes and other health care environments engage in patient lifting and moving activities. Consequently, the BLS reports similar injury patterns for nursing home employees, hospital workers, and RNs.
By nature of the industry, construction workers perform jobs requiring lifting, lowering, and carrying heavy tools, materials, and equipment. Construction worker’s daily tasks frequently cause lifting injuries. For example:
- At times, all construction workers will be required to retrieve materials offloaded or stored away from their work areas. Gathering off site materials may require making multiple trips or carrying heavy materials for unreasonably long distances.
- Electricians are frequently required to move tools, heavy wire coils, and other supplies by hand when a dolly would make transport easier and safer.
- Masons are required to carry tools, bags of cement, bricks, sand, and other materials. Laying heavy bricks and cement blocks requires repetitive lifting, lowering, and twisting.
- Drywall contractors make awkward trips carrying manual and power tools and materials. To complete the installation process, they must lift large sheets of drywall and hold them in place, often without support.
- Carpenters carry tools, wooden beams, and other materials. When completing construction tasks, they are often required to lift and hold beams overhead.
- Employees in manufacturing, retail, construction, warehousing, and service industries are continuously faced with hazards related to lifting and lowering.
Types of Lifting-Related Injuries
As with many physical traumas, the severity of a lifting-related injury depends on individual factors. Employees performing the same tasks may sustain varying degrees of injury or no injury at all. The nature and extent of an injured employee’s trauma may depend on age, physical strength, fitness, and other factors. At times, lifting and lowering injuries involve a worker’s cartilage, muscles, nerves, discs, joints, or other body parts and systems. These types of trauma typically manifest as a range of musculoskeletal conditions, including:
- Muscle strains and sprains
- Muscle spasms
- Soft tissue tears
- Disc injuries, including herniation
- Carpal tunnel syndrome and other wrist injuries
- Shoulder injuries
Complexities of Lifting Guidelines
National health and safety agencies such as NIOSH, CDC, and OSHA, recognize that workplace injuries have no one-size-fits-all solution. As such, they consider lifting an ergonomic problem. Ergonomics refers to the scientific study of job duties and environments and their relationship to the employees who perform and inhabit them. Ergonomic practices minimize physical stressors related to posture, repetitive tasks, and other issues affecting workplace safety. While utilizing ergonomic practices makes sense, implementation is often tedious and complicated. After all, ergonomics is a science. Developing ergonomic compliance isn’t a simple task, especially when it involves work habits related to lifting. The primary complication stems from the variety of appropriate standards for different individuals in different work environments. The CDC and NIOSH present ergonomic compliance as a series of steps:
- Identifying risk factors
- Training employees and managers to avoid risks
- Tracking employee Material Safety Data (MSD) injury reports
- Providing ergonomic solutions to eliminate or replace hazards, change work processes, and implement employee protections
- Evaluating ergonomics continuously
- Promoting health and recovery
- Establishing and maintaining employee-employer commitment
Is Ergonomics Merely a Trendy Concept?
An ergonomic approach to removing workplace risk factors has been around for nearly two centuries. Wojciech Jastrzębowski, a Polish scholar, coined the phrase “ergonomics” in 1857. In his book, “An Outline of Ergonomics or the Science of Health,” Jastrzebowski documented and explained the connection between labor and health. Today, ergonomics are widely accepted as a successful approach to reducing workplace injuries. Creating an ergonomic work environment involves implementing a few simple ideas and concepts. However, because it’s a science, some of the ideas and formulas come across as overly complicated. Often, the concepts are not readily applicable to traditional labor environments.
Ergonomic Compliance is Suggested, Not Mandated
The CDC, NIOSH, and OSHA all recommend ergonomic solutions, suggesting they can reduce the occurrence of musculoskeletal injuries and create safer workplaces. For employers and employees motivated to make a change, the information is easily accessible. Some resources include:
- Elements of an Ergonomics Program outlines NIOSH guidelines for workplace ergonomics to control musculoskeletal injuries.
- NIOSH Healthcare Worker Guidelines on the NIOSH web page provide resources for patient handling and mobility.
- NIOSH Lifting Equation offers a technical guide to analyzing workplace risks and tasks, such as calculating appropriate lifting weights.
- NIOSH Lifting Equation Mobile App is a tech-savvy resource utilizing NIOSH equations to calculate lifting indexes for job tasks. It helps employers determine employees’ optimum lifting weights and manual work guidelines.
Do Back Belts Reduce Injury?
If you perform lifting, lowering, and other repetitive tasks, your employer may provide a back belt, abdominal belt or some other back-supportive device. However, according to NIOSH in “Back Belts, Do They Prevent Injuries,” there is no scientific proof that these devices reduce worker injuries. To support this conclusion, the agency conducted back belt research among 9,377 employees at a retail chain. The study assessed employees’ personal and work-life details and documented their belt-wearing habits, injuries, and any work-related claims made. Ultimately, the study found no significant outcome differences between the belt-wearing and non-belt-wearing individuals.
Do You Need an Attorney to Handle Your Lifting Injury Claim?
You have the right to manage your workers’ compensation claim on your own. However, before you make that decision, you should consider consulting with a Florida workers’ compensation attorney. Workers’ compensation claims do not always follow a straightforward process. Typically, insurance company representatives handle every detail of a workers’ compensation claim. The representative will determine claim approvals, benefits disbursements, and other critical issues. Certain injuries, particularly involving back pain, are often viewed with suspicion and may result in the denial of your claim or request for benefits. Claimants who delay reporting their injuries are especially susceptible to denied claims. Workers’ compensation lawyers work with you to present a claim that optimizes your claim outcome. With legal knowledge and experience, they can successfully intervene on your behalf. An initial consultation can serve only to provide you with information to better understand your claim without any commitment. The consult will inform you of the process and show you how an attorney may better help you present your claim. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 (727) 451-6900 https://www.dolmanlaw.com/legal-services/workers-compensation-attorneys/