Cumulative injuries are some of the most expensive and complex workers’ compensation claims an organization will deal with. These injuries typically arise over time rather than from a single occurrence—making them more difficult and expensive to treat. What’s more, these injuries can often be long and painful experiences for employees. As such, it’s important for your organization to mitigate the risk of these injuries. This guide is to learn more about cumulative injuries and how to prevent them from occurring within your organization.
What Are Cumulative Injuries?
Cumulative injuries usually stem from employees performing repeated movements while working over a period of time. These repetitive job tasks can lead to degeneration of the employees’ impacted body parts, eventually becoming symptomatic and needing treatment.
Cumulative injuries can present in several different ways. Symptoms can include inflammation, numbness or tingling of extremities, swelling of joints, or decreased range of motion, among other issues. Common diagnoses for cumulative injuries are carpal tunnel syndrome and bursitis.
The following employees are more prone to cumulative injuries:
- Office workers who engage in frequent typing
- Factory line workers who pick or stand over a conveyor belt for hours daily
- Operators who use their hands to operate equipment
- Material handlers who perform lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling tasks frequently
Each of these occupations requires employees to perform the same job tasks repeatedly. These injuries tend to show up more in older workers who have been doing the same job tasks for years. However, cumulative injuries can show up in workers who practice poor posture and have inadequate ergonomics. It’s hard to determine what causes these injuries exactly.
Workers’ Compensation Claims From Cumulative Injuries
There are a few possibilities when it comes to what type of claims come from a cumulative injury:
- Employees may have symptoms that began several months back or even a year or more ago. The employee may not mention the pain, as they think it’ll go away on its own. It’s normally after the employee has dealt with the injury for a long time or that the symptoms start to worsen that they finally report the injury. If it had been treated when the symptoms began, this injury could have been easier and less invasive to address. Cumulative injury claims can be complicated and costly, so it is important to encourage your employee to report any cumulative injury symptoms.
- Another possibility is when an employee new to a position starts experiencing symptoms within a short amount of time. In this scenario, there is a question of whether the employee has a preexisting injury from previous work or other activities, or if the injury is a result of work hardening. Work hardening is soreness that occurs when a person is getting used to moving their body in new ways or becoming accustomed to more manual labor. If it’s an exacerbation from a preexisting injury—but the symptoms flared up at work and the employee was performing job tasks that could have contributed to their symptoms—the employer could be held responsible for the resulting workers’ compensation claim unless the injury source is proven otherwise.
Cumulative Injury Treatment
Cumulative injuries often take a longer time to heal, leading to elevated treatment costs. Treatment options for cumulative injuries can include:
- Resting the extremity injured
- Icing the affected area
- Using contrast bath therapy
- Receiving physical therapy
- Getting surgery (in extreme cases)
Cumulative injuries can result in time off from work, especially if an employee’s current job task aggravates their symptoms. In addition, if the employee discovers during treatment that they will be unable to return to their current job tasks, they may be provided vocational rehabilitation benefits through the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. This benefit will help them find a new position or provide them with training for a new job role altogether.
How to Mitigate Cumulative Injury Claims
Your organization must try to eliminate or reduce the repetitiveness of any job tasks that could potentially cause cumulative injuries. Be sure to perform ergonomic risk assessments on all job tasks to determine which hazards are present and provide solutions to those hazards. Solutions might include:
- Providing tools to make employees’ job tasks easier
- Offering additional training in ergonomics to reduce incidents of sprains or strains
- Monitoring employees’ work practices to make sure they are using the correct tools and working within their physical limitations
- Creating a wellness program that boosts employees’ awareness on how to take care of their bodies
- Educating employees on proper reporting of injuries
- Changing how job tasks are completed
- Utilizing mechanical operations rather than employees for certain job tasks (if applicable and logical to do so)
These assessments should be completed proactively to prevent any issues from arising from a process and then after an injury occurs to determine what movements or processes could have caused the injury. If there is no one in the company that can competently perform the ergonomic risk assessments, the employer should hire a professional to come in and perform the assessments.
Overall, it’s crucial for your organization to take steps to avoid cumulative injuries, both by educating your employees on these ailments and implementing adequate workplace safety measures. In doing so, you and your employees will be able to work together to catch any symptoms of these injuries early and seek proper treatment before they become severe—helping also to minimizing any increased workers’ compensation costs.
Reach out to us at [email protected] for more information about workers’ compensation and claims.