What is repetitive strain injury?
A repetitive strain injury is a term used to describe an injury sustained over a period of time as a result of repetitive overuse. This causes inflammation and damage to soft tissues such as muscles, tendons and nerves overtime. This is most common amongst employments that require repetitive manual labour (such as: construction workers; factory workers; packaging workers); however can still occur in other industries where employees are required to perform repetitive movements for extended periods of time (such as bus drivers, musicians, cleaners, and cooks).
Some symptoms you may experience may include:
- Tenderness or pain in affected muscle or joint
- Loss of sensation or numbness
- Loss of strength
- Burning, aching, or sharp pain
These symptoms are generally aggravated by use and relieved by rest.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, please consult your local doctor to diagnose your injury.
What are some common causes for repetitive strain injury at work?
Repetitive strain injuries at work are commonly caused by the inadequate use of breaks; the lack of variety in the type of work undertaken; and the use of equipment not suitable to an individual’s body type. Sometimes working in cold conditions or working too fast may also aggravate the severity of your injury as well.
Can I claim compensation for my repetitive strain injury at work?
If you are suffering from a repetitive strain injury and it was sustained or a pre-existing injury has been aggravated as a result of work, you may be able to claim compensation. There are two ways you can claim compensation.
Option 1 – Worker’s Compensation
The first option is to claim worker’s compensation with WorkCover. You may make a claim for this if your injury is a personal injury ‘arising out of, or in the course of, employment if the employment is a significant contributing factor to the injury’. The claim will assist in compensating a significant portion of your loss of wage while you are unfit for work and your medical/rehabilitation expenses.
Once this has been done, you may wish to pursue a Workcover common law claim against your employer for negligence as well. In order to do this you must establish:
- Firstly, that your employer owed you a duty of care. Employers generally owe a duty to ensure that the risk of injuries are minimize as much as reasonable practicable. This means that they are required to ensure that adequate breaks, rotation of tasks etc. are implemented so as to prevent employees from incurring a repetitive strain injury.
- Secondly, that your employer breached that duty of care. This is generally established if the employer has not done what a reasonable person in their position would have done to minimize the risk of incurring any injuries.
- Lastly, that the injury you suffer was a result of the breach of duty.
If you have been successful in a Common law Workcover claim, you may be entitled compensation to past loss of income, future loss of income, medical expenses incurred in the past and ones to be incurred in the future, and any other losses or costs resulting from your injury.
Option 2 – Common Law Negligence
The second option is to claim compensation directly under the Common Law for negligence. Much of the same elements for establishing negligence under a Common law Workcover claim will apply.
What if the injury was sustained from working at home?
If you have suffered a repetitive strain injury from working at home, whether you can make a claim will ultimately depend upon whether your injury occurred in the ‘course of your employment’. If you were undertaking tasks at home for the purpose of your employment within the ordinary hours of your employment, you will likely be able to make a claim.
Note that taking breaks to make a coffee, go to the toilet or walk around the house will also be considered in the ‘course of your employment’ as it would in an office.
Does lower-back pain as a result of working from home amount to a claimable injury?
If you have sustained an injury or aggravated a pre-existing injury to your lower-back, you may also be able to claim compensation for any loss of wage or medical expenses incurred.
The time limit for a personal injury matter in Queensland is 3 years. Given nature of repetitive strain injuries, the date in which to assess when your injury has occurred can be confusing.
*In order to more accurately assess whether your injury falls within the time limitations, please seek expert legal advice (not sure if this can stay in here)*
In summary, repetitive strain injuries can occur to anyone in the work force. If you have suffered a repetitive strain injury, there are options to claim compensation in order to assist you in this difficult time.
Contact us today.
 See for example: in Hargreaves v Telstra Corporation Limited  AATA 417, an employee who was working from home was able to make a claim for an injury suffered from home. She was retrieving her cough medication and fell down the stairs resulting in her shoulder injury. The tribunal ruled that the fall occurred in the course of her employment (like any employee taking break at work).
This article was written by Courtney Linton