Employers have obligations to report injuries to WorkCover.
The first thing to know about workplace arm injuries is that if you have suffered one, you are not alone. In 2019-2020, about 25% of serious claims for worker’s compensation related to injuries to the arms and upper limbs.
Why are arm injuries common in the workplace?
One explanation for the ubiquity of arm injuries at work is that there are several ways in which they can occur. In fact, three of the top four most common mechanisms of a workplace injury or illness are also frequently encountered in the arms:
– traumatic joint, ligament, muscle or tendon injury – 38% of serious claims for workplace injury compensation
– musculoskeletal and connective tissues diseases – 18%
– fractures – 11%
Another reason is the importance of the upper limbs. The arms comprise three major bones – the humerus, radius and ulna; and significant joints including the shoulder, elbow and wrist.
Causes of a workplace arm injury
Traumatic soft tissue injuries and fractures, or broken bones, generally occur during a workplace accident such as a vehicle collision, malfunction of plant or equipment, or a fall.
Fractures will often occur from the impact of the arm being struck, for example when it hits or is hit by a piece of machinery or another object in the workplace. Impacts can also occur during a motor vehicle accident, or from something as simple as the instinctive breaking of a fall by putting out your hand. Falls are, in fact, not an uncommon way to suffer a broken bone in the arm – in 2018-2019 falls resulted in 231,000 hospitalizations in Australia, and 23% of those involved injury to the shoulder or arm.
An impact can also cause injury to the soft tissues in the arm, including the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Most people are familiar with the actions of muscles and how they can be strained or torn, though this is usually thought of in terms of a sporting injury. Muscles and connective tissues can just as easily be damaged by the same forces in a workplace accident.
Connective tissues include ligaments, which attach bone to bone and often stabilize joints, and tendons, which attach bone to muscle. Either can be overstretched, ruptured, or partially torn.
Parts of the arm are often affected by occupational overuse syndrome, also known as repetitive strain injury or RSI. Examples include carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff tendonitis, tendinopathy or tenosynovitis, and lateral epicondylitis or tennis elbow.
Repetitive strain injuries are usually caused by performing tasks of a repetitive nature or that involve repetitive motions, especially for prolonged periods, too quickly, or in an awkward position.
Minimizing the risk of workplace arm injury
Obviously, prevention is better than cure. Employers and workers together can ensure the workplace is as safe as possible, including:
- the physical working environment – buildings, vehicles, equipment and machinery
- the work – duration, complexity, and physical demands of tasks, breaks and time pressures
- the workers – recognising capacity, needs and levels of experience
Proper risk assessment of hazardous activities and implementing mitigation strategies according to the hierarchy of controls help to reduce the risk of serious accidents occurring.
The prevention of injuries that develop over time can also be significantly influenced by improving conditions for the employee in their day to day work. For example, the risk of RSI can be reduced by:
- reducing stress
- planning workflow and deadlines to allow for breaks for the body to recover
- designing workstations so that workers:
- can reach equipment they need without bending, twisting or reaching repeatedly
- do not have to stay in the same position for an extended period
- are in environment
ts that have been ergonomically designed to be suitable for them
- do not have to work in an awkward position.
What to do if you are injured
There are a number of useful sources like Worksafe Queensland that provide detailed information about dealing with a workplace injury.
As a quick, easy-to-digest summary:
- Go to the hospital, see a doctor, or consult your workplace, first aid officer.
Whatever way the injury has occurred, timely medical intervention is likely to improve your prognosis. For any workplace injury, it is important that the treating medical professionals know that the injury occurred at work.
- If it’s not already obvious to them, notify your employer that you have been injured.
Employers have obligations to report injuries to WorkCover. They may also be able to take measures to make the work area safe or otherwise reduce the risk to your colleagues, depending on the situation.
- Ask your treating doctor or doctors for a work capacity certificate – you will need this for a WorkCover claim.
This certificate will include important information about your injury and your capacity to work.
- Begin your recovery and rehabilitation
Your treating doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, or other specialists will be able to formulate a plan of treatment and rehabilitation that best suits your needs. Studies have shown that incorporating suitable work activities in your rehabilitation plan can reduce distress, support your health and well-being and make it more likely you can ultimately return to work successfully.
- Explore your options for taking steps to secure your financial peace of mind
If you have suffered a severe injury, you may have significant treatment needs and require a period of time away from work.
WorkCover or a self-insurer may pay:
- A weekly sum as compensation for lost wages
- Medical and rehabilitation costs
- A lump sum amount of compensation, depending on the injury or illness
Additionally, or instead, you may be entitled to have your medical costs and other financial losses compensated by your employer if their negligence caused your injury. Either way, a specialist workplace injury compensation firm like Smith’s compensation lawyers can provide useful advice about your options.