Repetitive Stress Construction Worker Injuries

When most people think about construction worker injuries, they probably visualize sudden injuries, such as falls or electrocutions. But focusing on sudden injuries causes many to overlook the dangers of repetitive stress injuries.

Daily activities at construction sites tend to put strain on particular portions of a worker's body. For example, a worker might be expected to pull herself up into a tall truck while carrying heavy materials. The worker's shoulder might seem to be able to handle that activity with little damage. But when the activity is repeated over and over, day after day, the activity can begin to cause microscopic tears in the muscle tissue in the shoulder. Over time, the injury can compound, causing chronic pain and mobility problems.

Similar injuries can occur in almost any part of the body, but injuries to the shoulder and back are the most common when it comes to construction workers. Repetitive stress injuries are one of the leading causes of missed work in the construction industry, and they are particularly problematic because they tend to take a long time to heal.

In this article, we discuss how to avoid repetitive stress injuries and what a lawsuit based on a repetitive stress injury might look like.

Avoiding Repetitive Stress Injuries

Repetitive stress injuries tend to arise when jobs require workers to engage in ergonomically unsound activities. Ergonomics is the study of fitting work activities and equipment to the needs of the human body.

Workers should not be asked to lift heavy objects by hand or in awkward positions. Heavy lifting, even if it does not produce any immediate negative results, can cause significant wear and tear on the body. This can be the cause of a worker's back eventually "going out."

Also, activities that are consistently done in awkward positions should be avoided. An example of this is when a worker uses tools above his or her head. The shoulders have difficulty supporting objects, even relatively light tools, for long periods of time above the head.

In many cases, wearing a guard or brace might alleviate strain and help to minimize repetitive stress injury. Workers who are at risk for developing these types of injuries should be issued adequate safety equipment, especially if the employer has been placed on notice of the risk of repetitive stress injury.

Personal Injury Cases Resulting From Repetitive Stress Injuries

In order to win a person injury lawsuit for harm caused by repetitive stress, a worker must prove three elements:

  • that the defendant had a duty to provide for the safety of the worker
  • that the defendant breached that duty, and
  • that the breach caused harm.

Duty of Care Owed by the Defendant to the Worker

In order for a worker to prevail in a lawsuit against a defendant, the defendant must have had a duty to provide for the safety of the worker. Not every entity involved in a construction project has such a duty. Laws are complicated and can vary by state, but generally speaking, any party that provides or maintains equipment has a duty to provide for the safety of workers who will be using that equipment.

Also, any party that exercises decision -making power at a construction site usually has a duty to provide adequate protection for workers. So, if the owner of a building regularly directs workers about what to do and how to do it, that owner may be liable for a repetitive stress injury, especially where there is notice of a potential problem.

Breach of the Duty of Care

A breach is any failure by the defendant to properly provide for the safety of a worker. Any violation of theOSHA regulations will generally be considered a breach of the duty of care. Any other violation of a safety standard generally accepted in the industry or recommended by experts may also amount to a breach of the standard of care.

For example, imagine a construction worker is instructed to regularly move 80 pound crates at construction sites. After five years of regularly moving the crates around, the worker's back gives out. The employer may have breached its duty to provide for the safety of the worker, especially if it can be shown that the worker was not properly instructed on how to perform tasks in a way that would minimize injury, or if a brace or other safety equipment was available and was not provided.

In nearly every repetitive stress injury case, expert medical testimony is critical. The expert witness will testify as to how repetitive stress can cause injuries over time and what precautions construction companies should take in order to ensure workers' safety. The jury will then use the expert's testimony to determine whether the defendant breached a standard of care.

Harm Caused by the Breach

In personal injury cases, the most common types of damages include:

  • medical expenses
  • lost wages (for time missed from work due to the injury)
  • pain and suffering, and
  • loss of normal life (the decreased quality of a person's life as a result of the injury).

It is critical that the damages were actually caused by the defendant's negligence. So, if a worker's back were to give out after twenty years of working in the construction industry, the defendant may not be so clearly liable for the injury if factors outside of work contributed to the injury.

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