Many construction workers suffer catastrophic injuries after one bad day on the job. However, some workers are injured little by little during every regular workday, causing their ligaments and muscles to simply give out. These injuries, commonly known as repetitive stress injuries, develop due to months and years of cumulative trauma—and they are unfortunately common in the construction industry.
How Construction Work Leads to Repetitive Motion Injuries
Any injury caused by repeated lifting, pushing, pulling, vibrations, or holding an awkward body position may be considered a repetitive motion injury. In addition to being extremely painful and difficult to treat, these injuries present more difficulties when it comes to making a workers’ compensation claim. Employees will have to provide proof that the injury is related to the type of work they perform, which can be complicated for construction workers who may wear many hats in a single day.
Workers may have trouble getting benefits for even the most common kinds of repetitive strain injuries, including:
Workers perform constant twisting, bending, and stretching motions, usually to pick up or set down heavy objects. The constant pressure and awkward positions required of the spine may result in a cumulative trauma injury. To make matters worse, repetitive strain can affect the ability to react properly to dangerous situations, increasing the risk of sudden injuries or death in older workers.
Tendinitis, an inflammation in the tendons, is a common injury in construction workers due to a lack of proper rest. Most people who strain the tendons in their bodies are able to rest after extreme exertion, preventing long-term damage. However, construction workers put pressure on the tendons in their joints every day, breaking down the fibers in their knees, elbows, and shoulders.
Vibrations from drills, jackhammers, and nail guns may cause “trigger-finger” injuries such as Raynaud’s Syndrome, tendonitis, circulation problems (white finger) or nerve damage.
Repeated grabbing and twisting to install fixtures or perform repairs can cause inflammation of the tendons in the wrist, leading to carpal tunnel syndrome or a painful thumb injury known as DeQuervain syndrome.
Workers may need to pressing tools against parts of the body to apply the necessary pressure to get the job done, forcing their bodies and arms into awkward positions while doing so. The force of the strain on the forearms can result in tennis elbow, while upper body strain can result in painful nerve impingement (such as thoracic outlet syndrome).
Neck and shoulder injuries.
Reaching or holding objects over the head for long periods of time can strain the neck and upper back, causing the majority of rotator cuff injuries. This condition makes it extremely painful to raise or lower the Arm and may require surgical correction and cause permanent weight lifting restrictions.
Who Should Pay the Costs of an Employee’s Repetitive Motion Injury?
Under workers’ compensation laws, construction employees can collect benefits if repetitive stress caused an injury or the aggravation of a pre-existing condition. They may also qualify for permanent disability benefits if the injury makes it impossible to earn a living or has forced the employee to retire early.
In addition to collecting workers’ compensation, New York construction workers may sue an employer or third party for a work injury resulting from negligence. Under the law, a third party may be liable for an injury caused by:
Failure to provide protective equipment.
Under Labor Law 241, contractors can be liable for injuries if they did not provide adequate safety equipment. This may include personal protective equipment such as back braces, or machinery that can perform rote tasks to prevent strain on a worker’s body.
Negligent work or training practices.
General contractors and subcontractors are responsible for training workers on proper workplace procedures to prevent injury and enforcing safety measures at all times. A contractor may be liable if workers are not given sufficient time off between repetitive tasks or have no set time limits for jobs that require awkward postures.
Non-ergonomic workplace conditions.
Section 200 of the state labor law allows workers to hold owners and contractors liable when an unsafe workplace causes injury. In the case of a repetitive strain injury, contractors and owners can protect workers by designing a proper layout of the work environment that avoids unnecessary reaching, bending, or lifting.
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