The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) places much of its focus on communicating the very serious issues associated with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and how to prevent them. With some nine million working days lost each year to MSDs, it is no surprise.
Musculoskeletal disorders are injuries to the soft tissues, tendons, muscles, ligaments and nerves in the back, and the lower and upper limbs.
Upper limb disorders (ULDs) are a type of MSD. They can affect everything from the fingers and arms up to the shoulders and neck. Sometimes referred to as repetitive strain injury (RSI), occupational overuse syndrome or cumulative trauma disorder, ULDs are incredibly common in the workplace and can be caused by a number of different working practices, including the use of display screen equipment or vibrating tools. Repetitive lifting at work is another common culprit.
Far too many employees suffer ill health due to a work related upper limb injury. The fact is that anyone who has suffered an upper limb disorder caused by work could be eligible for compensation. Under the Health and Safety at Work etc., Act 1974; the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, employers have a legal duty to take steps to ensure they provide a safe and healthy working environment for their staff.
If you believe you have suffered a lifting injury at work or you have a neck, wrist, arm or shoulder injury caused by poor working conditions or lack of training and supervision, then you may be in a position to make a claim for compensation, in which case the following information may prove useful to you.
What causes a work related upper limb injury?
There is a whole host of things that can cause an upper limb injury. These include a poor working environment; repetitive tasks including repetitive lifting at work; work that involves excessive or sustained force and long periods without breaks. Working in unusual positions, with poor posture or having to lift or carry heavy loads can also lead to a work related upper limb injury.
How do I know if I have an upper limb disorder caused by work?
Generally, if you suffer from aches and pains; stiffness in your joints; tenderness; weakness; cramp; swelling; numbness and / or tingling to the muscles of your arms or your neck that is caused by or made worse by the work that you do, it is likely you have an upper limb disorder caused by work.
What should my employer be doing to prevent upper limb disorders?
Risk assessments are the most important starting point for any employer. Without a site-specific risk assessment, there is no way of identifying potential hazards that could result in a work related upper limb injury. All workstations and other productivity environments should be assessed on a regular basis, and the measures that are put in place as a result monitored for effectiveness. This is a legal requirement, so if an employer cannot provide evidence of having done so, then this will be considered a breach of duty.
Whilst an employer is not expected to completely remove all risks, there is a requirement to put measures in place to try and control and reduce the risks so far as is reasonably practical. The risk assessment should always include consultation with the employees affected by the potential hazard or risk.
Written evidence of a risk assessment will always be requested in the event of a claim.
Once a risk assessment has been carried out, a need may be identified for things like regular breaks; improved seating; height adjustable desks or workstations; mechanical aids and the like. It may also be the case that any tasks considered risky are shared across different members of staff so that there is adequate time in between for each worker to recover.
What should I do if I have suffered a work related upper limb injury?
If you believe your employer is at fault and has caused you to suffer a work related upper limb injury then the first step is to take expert legal advice from a lawyer who specialises in work related upper limb disorder claims.