What are repetitive strain injuries (RSI)?
You may have heard the term RSI before. RSI refers to any injury which affects the soft tissue in the body (muscles, tendons and nerves), specifically in the neck, upper and lower back, chest, shoulders, arms, wrists and hands.
RSI is commonly also referred to as occupational overuse syndrome. RSI typically first appears as an ache or persistent pain. But over time, RSI can progress to become a prolonged and chronic pain disorder that can prevent you from working or living your life to the fullest.
RSI is a common workplace injury, with most sufferers working in industrial and manual labour roles. Some of the industries most impacted by RSI include factory work, fishing, minding, hospitality, automotive, trucking and transport, retail, health care, packaging, building, and in professions where long hours at a desk are required.
Given that so many of us spend our work days at a computer these days, it’s not surprising that many sufferers of RSI are office-based.
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Repetitive strain injuries are commonly caused by:
- Using a mouse and keyboard that has not been ergonomically set up
- Picking and sorting from a conveyor
- Maintaining the same posture for a long period of time
- Using machinery or tools without a break
- Doing the same repetitive tasks for days or weeks on end
Every employer has a health and safety responsibility to identify and reduce the risk of workplace injury and RSI in the workplace. If you have suffered an injury and believe you have not been provided a safe workplace in terms of avoiding RSI you may be eligible to make compensation claims for your loss.
When claiming for RSI you will be claiming under WorkCover which is a statutory insurance scheme designed to protect injured workers. We will cover how to claim in more detail later in this article.
Workers most at risk from repetitive strain injuries.
We touched on some of the industries most likely to see workers injured after performing repetitive tasks - but what are the roles within those industries?
- Retail workers - highly repetitive supermarket roles such as food pickers or checkout operators are often at risk of suffering a workplace injury due to repetitive tasks. When people are engaged in packing shelves, for example, they are often stooping to a lower level and then reaching up to a higher one. This action of pivoting at the hips can result in a back injury which can be debilitating if not managed.
- Meat processors - roles such as chicken bagging may be repeated thousands of times in one day - and depending on work targets and the pace of work, it may be the case that only a short period of work can result in an RSI.
- Factory workers - repetitive assembly line jobs are the cause of many workplace injuries with workers have to lean across conveyors and reaching to sort items.
- Construction workers - roles using machinery causing repetitive motion such as pneumatic drill operators are at risk from suffering as RSI.
- Warehouse and logistics - roles such pickers for ecommerce operators can be highly repetitive, especially with part automation reducing downtime. Forklift operators are also at risk due to the highly repetitive nature of operating the controls.
- Truck drivers - long distance truck drivers have to keep their arms in a similar position for sustained periods of time and experience vibration for many hours through the steering wheel. Truck drivers most commonly report strains and sprains as workplace injuries, while the design of their vehicles puts truck drivers at risk from damage due to poor protection against bumpy roads and vibration.
Risk factors for RSI
There are a range of factors which can impact on RSI or Occupational Overuse Syndrome. A poorly-designed workplace can create risk factors which mean you are more likely to suffer an injury. Common risk factors for RSI include:
- Tools or equipment that do not fit or conform comfortably to your body will put you at greater risk of injury
- A bench or workstation that is too high, too low, or too far away will require you to reach or bend in an unnatural way, putting you at risk of a twisting or straining injury
- Machinery or conveyors that move too quickly can cause you to work too quickly and may result in an injury
- Tight deadlines can cause workers to engage in longer shifts or shorter breaks, both of which are risk factors for RSI
Your employer has a duty of care to ensure that you have access to proper rests and breaks, and that you have sufficient time off between shifts. If you do not have adequate rest you may be at a higher risk of suffering injury.
If you have been injured as a result of improper working conditions then you may be eligible to make a claim for compensation from your employer in addition to any WorkCover claim.
What are common RSI symptoms?
Repetitive strain injuries are common injuries at work, and while the injuries can be distinct there are some common features for each type of injury.
- Muscle and tendon soreness
- Soft tissue damage which can cause general pain and suffering
- Tingling or numbness
- Throbbing or tenderness
- Stiffness and difficulty moving
If you are an employee who has suffered an injury at work and need to take time off work to heal, you can make a claim for WorkCover.
Some common RSI conditions include:
- Tennis elbow which is so named for its common appearance with tennis players. Tennis elbow is characterised by inflammation or even micro-tearing of the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the forearm.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome which is a painful condition caused by compression of a nerve in the hand and wrist, and which is often caused by repetitive movements.
- Bursitis which is inflammation of a small, fluid-filled sac called bursae. These sacs cushion the bones and tendons near your joints, but overuse of these joints can cause your bursae to become inflamed and painful.
- Tendonitis is the inflammation of your tendons and can be caused by overuse through something like typing or picking and packing.
- Herniated discs can be caused by twisting and lifting without proper workplace ergonomics.
If you have any symptoms of pain that do not get better after a few days’ rest then you absolutely should see your doctor and think about your options moving forward. If you have been injured at work then it may be time to consider making a WorkCover claim.
What treatments can be claimed on WorkCover for RSI?
When you are making a claim for RSI on WorkCover you may be eligible to claim for a range of treatments and therapies which can help you get back on track and into the workplace again. In some cases you may not be able to return to your previous duties - at least at first - and will be able to take on different duties.
- Physiotherapy - a physiotherapist is going to help you get back on track by providing a range of movement-related treatments. Your physio will go through what has caused the injury, and will engage in treatments such as massage, dry needling, movement, stretches, and active therapy so that you can recover from your injury.
- Occupational therapy - your occupational therapist will take a holistic approach to managing your injury, looking to get you engaged in basic tasks and working on gradually increasing your movement until you are back at a level you are capable of and comfortable with. Occupation therapists work to modify the workplace or home environment to ensure that your injury is managed appropriately.
- Exercise physiology - an exercise physiotherapist will get you up and moving as much as your injury allows and will work on strengthening you to ensure you are best equipped to return to work where possible.
- Remedial massage - a massage therapist specialising in remedial massage will ensure you manage your pain and will provide therapeutic treatment aimed at reducing inflammation and muscle soreness as you recover from your RSI.
How much compensation can I claim for RSI injuries from work?
When claiming for RSI you will be able to claim for any reasonable cost which has been incurred as a result of suffering the injury. If you have sustained medical costs, these can be claimed for, and you can also claim for any rehabilitative costs.
- If you require physiotherapy, occupational therapy, massage, or any other treatment for your recovery then these are claimable as part of your WorkCover claim
- If you require a reasonable adjustment to your home in order to live with your injury then this is also claimable
While there are certain things you can claim for it is best to seek legal advice and let a lawyer take you through the process of claiming through WorkCover. Any claim for compensation is not going to be paid by your employer - it is all done through insurance companies.
Time limits for RSI compensation claims
When claiming for a workplace injury you usually have three years in which to commence your claim. This is known as the statutory limitation period.
With RSI claims, this three year time period still applies, which means that any claim will ordinarily need to be commenced within three years of first encountering the workplace situation that caused your injury.
However, in some cases, an injury will take some years to cause enough pain that you will seek medical and legal help. In this case, there are some extension periods which can apply for this three year time period.
We recommend booking in for a complimentary consultation so that we can discuss your case with you. Making a claim for work compensation is different for everyone because every case has factors which are unique, but our lawyers will ensure that everything is easy to understand.
Call us today and book in for your obligation free consultation and ensure you get the legal advice that is right for you.