Repetitive Occupational Stress as a Work Injury: What is It?
You do the same job day after day. It could be that you are required to lift and bend heavy boxes. Perhaps you sit at a computer or operate a cash register hour after hour. No doubt there are many other types of jobs that can cause repetitive occupational stress. As a result, you could suffer a work injury that would qualify you for workers’ compensation benefits.
Actually, the Occupational Safety Administration (OSHA) classifies occupational stress injuries under an umbrella of Ergonomic Injuries and breaks them down as follows:
- Cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs). Injuries involving strain which develop, or build up over time.
- Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs). Injuries affecting muscles, nerves, and tendons by repetitive movement and overuse. The condition mostly affects the upper body.
- Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Injuries and disorders to soft body tissues including muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs.
- Repetitive motion injuries (RMIs). An injury to the body that is caused by performing the same motion over and over again thereby straining a body part.
More than likely, you can guess that OSHA’s concentration is on encouraging a safe workplace. For example, OSHA might suggest that employers require workers to wear back brace support belts to lessen the chance of injury. Nonetheless, repetitive motion over time could still cause undue stress on the body.
In an unpublished decision, the New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled in favor of a UPS driver seeking compensation benefits related to repetitive occupational stress. Although this particular ruling only applies to this worker, you may find it of interest.
Repetitive Occupational Stress Claim
In July, the Appellate Division rendered an unpublished opinion in the matter of Hendrickson v. United Parcel Service. At the time of the hearing, Hendrickson was 59 and had worked for UPS for thirty years. For almost the first two decades of his career, Hendrickson worked as a package car driver.
Within the first five years of his employment, Hendrickson began to experience back problems. However, he did not file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. In 2002, Hendrickson was out of work and diagnosed with “residuals of repetitive lumbar sprains,” “degenerative disc disease at multiple levels with bulging discs at L4-L5 and L5-S1,” “mild foraminal stenosis at L5-S1,” and “chronic lumbar myositis and fibromyositis.”
Ultimately, Hendrickson was able to return to work. His injuries were accepted as work-related, and he did receive an award for partial permanent disability. Two years later, Hendrickson was experiencing constant and severe pain. He was able to reopen his workers’ compensation claim and received an increase in the percentage of his partial permanent award.
Despite his pain, Hendrickson continued to work. At one point, he changed positions within the company. Fast forward to sometime between 2012 and 2013 and Hendrickson reportedly collapsed at a mall. He not only suffered from pain but had numbness radiating down his legs.
By 2014, Hendrickson’s condition had become more severe. The doctor put him out, but Hendrickson was determined to work. He testified that on a scale of 1-10, the pain was often as high as a seven or eight. Outside of his job duties, Hendrickson indicated that he led a rather sedentary life.
At some point, it became evident that Hendrickson needed surgical intervention. His attorney filed a motion asking that UPS pay for the medical treatment. However, the attorneys for UPS disputed the request, noting that it was not filed within the statute of limitations.
At issue was whether “timeliness of Hendrickson’s claim turned on whether his continued employment at UPS, “merely cause[d] pain from pre-existing conditions to be manifested….or whether it resulted from “additional ‘physical insult,’ . . . materially attributable to [his] job duties.”
In the end, the Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the workers’ compensation judge. Hendrickson’s repetitive occupational stress continued during the course of his employment. Thus, his claim was filed on a timely basis, and he was entitled to benefits.