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Beware of cumulative trauma disorders at work

Some workplace injuries are indisputable. A carpenter slices off the top digits of his fingers. A utility worker gets a serious shock while climbing the pole. A worker falls off of a high scaffold and breaks his back. In cases like those, the path to workers' compensation benefits should be clear-cut and obvious.

But not all workplace injuries are created equally. That, however, doesn't mean that if you suffer from a cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) that stems from your job and customary work duties that you should be denied your right to receive workers' comp benefits or even a settlement from an employer.

Here in the United States, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFS), CTDs are a primary occupational issue. It's believed that, at minimum, 3 percent of adults are adversely affected by these type of workplace injuries. Worse, as employees get older, the conditions continue to worsen. Without early intervention and treatment, these injuries can cause permanent damage.

The onset of CTDs

The problem with cumulative trauma injuries is that they occur over time — sometimes your entire career. All the while you're working hard on the job — whether you're walking narrow iron beams above ground or toiling away at a desk adding column after column of numbers — small micro-traumas are happening to your body parts.

CTDs affect workers' musculoskeletal systems, which are the collective group of nerves, tendons, joints, muscles and ligaments. Over an extended period of making the same motions, the repetition can cause stress and strain on the affected body parts.

What exacerbates these conditions is that there typically is very little recovery time. After working an eight-hour day, the few hours of down-time and sleep are simply not enough to negate the cumulative daily damage.

Below are some variables of CTD, which, of course, are dependent upon the industry in which you work and your job duties:

  • Physical repetition
  • Unnatural postures
  • Mental pressure
  • Vibration
  • Compression
  • Idleness
  • Rapid movements
  • Exertion

How can I tie my condition to my job?

It helps to develop a good awareness of your body and what feels "normal." While every individual is different, being able to establish a baseline allows you to become more aware when things start to go off-kilter.

You should also be proactive about approaching your boss when you notice any micro-traumas occurring. For instance, carpet installers who kneel and use knee-kickers to lay the carpet are especially susceptible to bursitis and other disorders of the knee. They may need certain accommodations in order to continue carrying out their duties.

By noting the presence of an injury or a strain that could develop into an injury, workers can effectively document what may turn into a workers' compensation claim down the road. In the above example, carpet-layers have done what they can do to alert their bosses to their need for protective kneepads or an alternative to "kicking" the carpet, e.g., using a power stretcher to make the ends of the carpet reach the wall.

Document any strains or injuries by making a note of the date and time you began noticing the problem. Taking photos is also a good idea. This type of evidence may later become useful in substantiating any workers' comp claims you may decide to make.

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