A back injury at work can be a nightmare. It can severely limit one’s mobility and lead to constant pain. Depending on the type of injury, one may face extensive treatment and ongoing therapy. It may be impossible to work for a living – or to at least return to the line of work a person once enjoyed.
The following are seven facts about work-related back injuries that we think you should know:
- Back injuries typically are classified as “musculoskeletal disorders.”
WebMD defines a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) as pain that impacts the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments in one’s body. It can be caused by wear and tear or by traumatic events such as a sudden twist or violent blow. Most back injuries, such as those suffered from repetitive lifting and bending or those suffered in a fall, can be described as “musculoskeletal disorders.”
- If you suffered a back injury at work, you are not alone: It is very common.
The most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that back injuries are one of the most commonly reported reasons why workers miss work in the U.S. In 2013, there were 212,080 cases of back injuries reported among workers in private industry and state and local governments. The median number of days away from work caused by these injuries was seven days.
- Some jobs present a greater risk of back injuries than others.
A back injury can happen to anyone, from construction laborers to office secretaries. However, BLS figures indicate that some jobs present a greater risk of back injury than others. MSDs accounted for 33 percent of the illness and injury cases that required workers to miss work in 2013, according to the BLS. Nursing assistants accounted for 53 percent of those MSD cases. Laborers and freight, stock and material movers also had high rates of MSDs.
- Certain factors raise the risk of suffering a back injury at work.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), back disorders frequently are caused by “exceeding the capability” of one’s muscles, tendons and discs or “the cumulative effect of several contributors.” OSHA identifies the following as leading factors behind back injuries:
- Reaching, twisting or bending while lifting
- Lifting with “forceful movement”
- Lifting heavy objects
- Sitting or standing with poor posture
- Staying in one position for an extended period
- Repeated lifting of “awkward items” such as equipment or patients
- Poor footing (slippery walking surfaces)
- Using poor body mechanics while lifting, pushing, pulling or carrying items
- Working in a poorly designed work station
- Fatigue and stress
- Exposure to vibration from equipment or while driving a vehicle such as a truck.
OSHA notes that aging, congenital spine defects and job dissatisfaction “usually account for very few” back injuries on the job.
- You can detect signs and symptoms of a work-related back injury.
If you have suffered a back injury at work, you should realize it right away. The signs and symptoms of a back injury include pain when you try to assume a normal posture or when you stand up from a seated position, according to OSHA. A decrease in your mobility is another sign of a back injury.
If you believe you have a back injury, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible in order to protect your health. Remember that you must go to a doctor approved by your employer – through its workers’ compensation insurer – in order to maintain your eligibility for worker’s compensation benefits.
- You need to report a back injury to your employer without delay.
Don’t wait to report your back injury to your employer. For instance, in Florida, you have only 30 days after an accident or diagnosis to report the injury, or else your claim to workers’ compensation benefits may be jeopardized. Simply go to your manager, supervisor or human resources (HR) manager to give proper notice. Within seven days, your employer should file its own injury report with its workers’ compensation insurer. The insurer should then send you information about your rights within three days after the employer’s notice is filed.
- You may need to work with an attorney to secure workers’ compensation.
In a perfect world, your employer’s workers’ compensation insurer would receive notice of your back injury and begin to immediately pay all of the medical benefits and lost wage benefits you are entitled to receive. Unfortunately, in many cases, an insurer may delay paying a claim or simply deny your claim. If this occurs to you, contacting an experienced workers’ compensation attorney will be an important step to take in order to protect your rights.