While many people still relate repetitive strain injuries (RSI) compensation claims to those using computers and typing machines, unfortunately this type of injury claim is common right across the working arena. A report by Unison shows that work-related musculoskeletal disorders (such as repetitive strain injury) accounted for 539,000 work-related illnesses out of a total of 1.3 million in the financial year 2015/16. This equates to around 8.8 million lost working days per year and while thankfully the figures have flatlined over the last five years it is still an issue for many people.
What Is Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)?
Repetitive strain injuries are often referred to as upper limb disorders (ULDs) although it is perhaps best known by the term RSI. It is a condition which affects the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and/ or other soft tissues and joints in the upper limbs. This takes in the neck, arms, shoulders, hands, wrists, and fingers. There are many different potential causes of RSI which we will cover below but it is worth noting that your employer has an obligation to ensure you are safe and free of injuries within the workplace.
RSI is perhaps one of the most uncomfortable musculoskeletal disorders causing pain, numbness and cramping in the muscles and tendons of the upper body. While some working practices are more closely related with RSI than others, this is an issue which can occur where any repetitive movements are carried out over a prolonged period of time. It was only recently that RSI was fully recognised as a potentially disabling condition which can have a major impact upon the quality of a person’s life, if left untreated.
There are two classes of RSI which are:
- Type one which is a visible swelling or inflammation of the tendons, hands, elbows or wrists. It can also be heavily connected to a diagnosable medical condition called carpal tunnel syndrome as well as other similar conditions.
- Type two RSI is perhaps the more challenging of the two because there are no visible symptoms. Sufferers have complained of chronic pain, numbness, tingling and cramping in affected joints and in some instances this has impacted their general grip.
If you believe you are suffering from a work-related RSI injury (which could include the likes of carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis and bursitis) you should seek medical advice as soon as possible. There are specific tests available today which will identify issues of RSI and recommend treatment to alleviate the pain and treat the condition. Where you are pursuing a repetitive strain injury compensation claim against your employer, your personal injury solicitor will be able to arrange a more in-depth medical examination which will detail the injury, impact on the individual’s life and the likelihood of recovery in due course.
Common Causes Of Repetitive Strain Injury Claims
While there are many individual instances in which RSI claims can be started, there are a number of common causes across the board which include:
- Uncomfortable working positions.
- Repetitive work.
- Actions which require sustained or excessive force.
- Carrying out specific tasks for long periods of time with no breaks.
- Substandard working environment.
- Badly organised workplace.
As with any repetitive strain injury compensation claim, the claimant must be able to prove that the condition was caused by negligence on behalf of the employer in the workplace. It is common knowledge that all employers have a legal duty of care to their employees and can leaving themselves open to RSI compensation claims if this is not fulfilled.
Protecting Against RSI In The Workplace
As we touched on above, all employers have a general duty of care to their employees to ensure their safety in the workplace. However, when it comes to instances of RSI there are a number of specific duties which an employer must carry out which include:
- Regular risk assessments to minimise instances of RSI.
- Where possible body positions should be adjusted to alleviate strain on individual parts of the body. This may be something as simple as altering the height of the computer screen or the position of the keyboard.
- Acquiring repetitive strain injury safety equipment such as ergonomic keyboards or posture friendly seating.
- Initial and continuous training for members of staff.
There are obviously situations where it is impossible to alleviate all potential risks of RSI and hazards in the workplace. On one hand the employer needs to prove that they took reasonable action to avoid, as much as possible, injuries such as RSI. On the other hand, the claimant needs to prove that their employer:
- Was negligent in the workplace, causing RSI.
- Failed in their legal duty of care.
As a general rule of thumb negligence is more commonly associated with a breach of health and safety regulations. There is no excuse for employers not being aware of the potential risks of injury such as RSI as there is more than enough guidance and information available. While the majority of RSI compensation claims focus on the working environment which cause the issues, it is possible to claim compensation where RSI also aggravated an existing condition.
Repetitive Strain Injury Compensation
Before we take a look at the two specific types of compensation which can be claimed for a repetitive strain injury, general damages and special damages, it is worth reviewing the damages guidelines issued by the Judicial College. While these are not legally binding levels of compensation they are routinely referred to by the courts and insurance companies when looking to address compensation in relation to work-related upper limb disorders such as RSI. The guidelines state that:
- Short-term repetitive strain injuries where symptoms disappear within a few months of treatment can receive compensation up to £2,675.
- The compensation amount for a repetitive strain injury that resolves in up to 3 years is on avaerage £8,175.
- Where the RSI pain is continuous, claims can rise up to £12,425.
- Some RSI injuries will require surgery and impact the claimant’s ability to work, attracting compensation payments of up to £17,575.
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These are only broad guidelines relating to general damages which take in issues such as:
- Pain and suffering as a consequence of the injury.
- Mental trauma.
- Impact on a person’s lifestyle.
We know from previous court cases that a repetitive strain injury can have a massive impact upon an individual’s lifestyle. Where for example the claimant regularly played golf or was perhaps a keen pianist, RSI injuries can in many cases impact their ability to carry on these pastimes. As a consequence, while the compensation guidelines relate to basic RSI injuries, the impact on a person’s lifestyle can lead to significantly increased pay outs.
Special damages relate to specific financial redress and financial expenditure going forward which can take in a whole array of different issues such as:
- Loss of earnings.
- Loss of future earnings.
- Medical costs.
- Transport costs.
- Future medical requirements.
- Changes to living facilities.
- Specific medical equipment required.
It is not difficult to see how the combination of general damages and special damages can lead to significant pay outs for employers where negligence in a RSI compensation claim is proven, resulting in repetitive strain injuries.
Lodging A Repetitive Strain Injury Claim
If you believe you are suffering from a repetitive strain injury as a consequence of negligence in the workplace you should approach a personal injury solicitor with details of your case. This should include details of your general working practices, repetitive actions, training resources, safety equipment used as well as a medical report from your doctor. The first aim is to prove negligence on behalf of your employer and the fact that they failed to service their duty of care. There are specific tests available today which will determine instances of RSI, and other related injuries, together with their level of severity.
Where there is a valid repetitive strain injury claim the claimant will (in our case) be offered a No Win No Fee arrangement. This ensures that the claimant has no upfront payments and any RSI compensation awarded would be from which our fee would be taken on a prearranged and agreed basis. The next action is to lodge the RSI claim for compensation, together with witness statements where applicable, and make the defendant aware of the action.
In instances of obvious negligence by the employer they would likely look to make an out-of-court settlement which saves court time and legal expenses. There will be instances where negligence is challenged which will lead to a court case and a ruling by the judge. However the large majority of compensation claims settle well before court action is required. We have also seen instances of shared negligence where the claimant has been partially responsible for their RSI condition. Where shared negligence is proven, the employer will be liable to pay only a portion of the overall compensation award.
Unfortunately, many valid cases of RSI claims, as a consequence of employer negligence, are never pursued because of concerns about future employment. There are legal protections afforded to employees in these instances which are not always appreciated. However, it is also worth noting that only by pursuing a repetitive strain injury compensation claim might a negligent employer even consider changing working practices to improve the safety of employees in the future.