Workers’ Compensation and Back Injuries

Posted on Wednesday, September 4th, 2019 at 3:11 pm    

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), there are numerous reasons why back injuries are a major cause of lost work days. Back disorders generally occur in one of two ways:

  • A single traumatic event
  • Repetitive actions over time
  • A combination of both

A single traumatic event or a combination of a single traumatic event that aggravates an accumulated problem both generally constitute compensable, valid injuries under workers compensation law in both Virginia and North Carolina; however, cumulative injuries by themselves are generally not compensable and do not constitute a valid workers compensation claim. 

Also, while usually in North Carolina, a “slip, trip, or fall” is required to prove an injury by accident, an exception is carved out in the law with respect to back injuries. Evidence of a single, traumatic event is usually sufficient to prove a back injury in North Carolina. 

Virginia also only requires a single, traumatic event, but there must also be a “risk of employment” associated with the accident. This means that if one is simply injured suddenly in the course of performing one’s duties in Virginia, unless there is something that is a “risk” posed by the employment, i.e. a very heavy weight being lifted, a defective piece of equipment, or a weight suddenly shifting, simply feeling sudden back pain will not rise to the level of a valid injury in Virginia. In North Carolina, with respect only to back injuries, it would, so long as the injured worker can point to a specific moment when the pain started during the performance of work duties.

Often, workers and employers fail to treat back problems which accumulate over time – until the symptoms become very so severe, so acute – that the cause a disabling injury. Some of the causes of back injuries include improper lifting techniques or lifting loads that are just too heavy for the  worker’s body.

Often, the single traumatic event is really due to “years of weakening of the musculoskeletal support mechanism by repetitive micro-trauma. Injuries can arise in muscle, ligament, vertebrae, and discs, either singly or in combination.”

Once again, unfortunately, these types of back injuries, if not precipitated or aggravated by a single traumatic event that the injured worker can point to, will not give rise to a valid workers compensation claim. 

OSHA states that back injuries from working aren’t known to cause fatalities. They do, however, cause a lot of pain and suffering and lost productivity. Back injuries affect nearly 600,000 employees on a yearly basis at a cot of nearly $50 billion annually. As the average age of employees increases, the cost to treat and pay disabled workers is likely to rise.

Some of the many reasons back disorders occur

Some of the workplace activities that cause deterioration of muscles, discs, joints, and ligaments – which in turn cause back injuries – include:

    • Poor posture. It’s important to sit and stand properly with good support. This means quality shoes and chairs. 
    • Staying in one position for too long. This means standing up occasionally if you have a desk job and sitting down occasionally if your job requires you to be on your feet all day long.
    • Reaching for objects at the same time you’re lifting. 
    • Using improper body techniques – when you lift, pull, push, or carry objects. There are standard ways, for example, that you should lift objects so the weight isn’t fully on your back.
    • Not being in good shape. Poor physical conditioning can affect your ability to use your back without experiencing pain.
    • Poor ergonomic equipment. Workstations should be designed to enhance your posture, to avoid the need to reach, and to help take pressure off your back. Your employer should consider having you wear a brace if you do a lot of heavy lifting.
    • Using your body instead of equipment. Employers should provide dollies, forklifts, and other equipment to help you mechanically lift and move anything that might be too heavy.

 

  • Twisting or bending while lifting.

 

  • Working while tired. It’s critical that workers be allowed to take periodic breaks. They shouldn’t work too many hours in any one day. Fatigue makes the muscles tired which can make movements harder. Additionally, tired workers are more likely to trip and fall which can result in acute back pain.
  • Not having proper footing. Workers shouldn’t lift, carry, push, or pull on uneven ground, on wet ground, or anywhere where their footing isn’t secured.
  • Working with machines that vibrate a lot. Truck drivers and delivery drivers are especially prone to back injuries if the cargo moves around or the truck can’t handle the load.

Some of the ways to help reduce back injuries

Some loads are much harder to lift or move than other loads. Generally, any load that is more than 50 pounds should be moved or lifted by using some of the following equipment or strategies:

  • Use hand trucks, pallet jacks, and forklifts
  • Try to break the load into smaller sizes and weights
  • Use ramps to load and move objects
  • Suction devices may help if they can carry the weight
  • Be aware that rolling items may help – but rolling may be dangerous if the motion can’t be stopped
  • Request that extra workers be used to lift, carry or move the load

OSHA states the employers and employees can help each other in the following ways:

  • Employers should ask employees what they think about how difficult task are and what their personal experience is with pain
  • Employers should observe first-hand the posture of their workers as they lift. They should also use video to analyze the motions
  • Employers should have a way to weigh objects and materials before lifting
  • Employers need to review how often and how long a worker is lifting
  • Workers should be rotated to different jobs so they’re not using the same muscles repetitively

“Principal variables in evaluating manual lifting tasks to determine how heavy a load can be lifted are: 

  • The horizontal distance from the load to the employee’s spine
  • The vertical distance through which the load is handled
  • The amount of trunk twisting the employee utilized during the lifting
  • The ability of the hand to grasp the load
  • The frequency with which the load is handled”

Other manual lifting variables include examining space constraints, the size of the load, and the stability of the load. 

Once all these variables are known, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of the US CDC – has a formula for determining whether a lift is safe or not.

Recommended OSHA safety tips

OSHA further recommends the following safety tips for manually handling objects to help avoid the risk of bank injuries:

  • Minimize the frequency of the activity, the range of motion, and the weight of the objects or materials.
  • Reduce the distance between the worker and the object being handled.
  • “Platforms and conveyors should be built at about waist height to minimize awkward postures. Conveyors or carts should be used for horizontal motion whenever possible.”
  • Pushing is generally better than pulling. 
  • It helps if the items being moved have handles that are easy to grasp.
  • Workstations should be configured properly so the worker doesn’t have to bend over. They should be designed to help the worker remain in a relaxed upright stance or fully supported, seated posture.
  • The worker shouldn’t have to bend his/her upper body and spine. Bins should tilted, elevated, or have collapsible sides– to improve access and avoid the need to bend.
  • Sustained twisting motions or leaning to one side should be avoided. 
  • Heavy objects should be stored at waist level
  • Employers should provide lift tables and lift-assist devices.

Virginia and North Workers’ Compensation Attorney Joe Miller Esq. understands back pain injuries. He workers with your doctors and independent doctors, when necessary, to diagnose your pain and prepare a full prognosis for your recovery. He’s helped thousands of injured workers get just recoveries. For help with your work injury claim, due to a back injury or for any reasons, call lawyer Joe Miller at 888-667-8295. or fill out my contact form to make an appointment.