In the employer-employee workplace relationship, there are several incidents that take place. A major part of these incidents and more related to law is accidents or injuries. There are several kinds of workplace injuries and among them are Ergonomic injuries. This piece would help in learning simple and basic facts about ergonomic injuries, the responsibilities of the employer as it relates to ergonomics, claims that can arise from ergonomic injuries and how these claims/lawsuits can be prevented from being filed at all.
What Is an Ergonomic Injury?
There are certain jobs that require repetitive motion or actions at almost every time or day an employee engages in that job such as a secretary who continually types many documents behind the system, bar code scanning for a supermarket attendant, etc. Ergonomic injuries occur as a result of carrying out repetitive motion or actions under average or less than optimal workplace conditions. Ergonomic injuries can occur even if the smallest tool being used is malfunctioning, defective or misaligned.
Examples of risks related to ergonomic injuries may include:
- Repetitive or constant awkward postures (such as bending or sitting or standing)
- Highly demanding or forceful exertions
- Highly repetitive tasks or jobs
- Poor or unhealthy workstation equipment
The higher the rate of occurrence of these risk factors, the higher the possibility of an ergonomic injuries developing.
Personal risk factors on the part of the employee may include such things as:
- Personal health or lifestyle (e.g. poor eating habits, lack of physical fitness, lack of sleep, smoking etc.)
- Poor habits at work (consistent undertaking of multiple shifts, lack of short breaks)
- Bad posture at work
The Employer’s Responsibility
Employers are under legal obligations to ensure that the working environment is conducive and reasonably free from risks of hazards. This omnibus duty/general duty clause has been extended to cover ergonomic injuries. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers have a general duty to “provide employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
Employer’s Liability and Employee’s Claim
Generally, ergonomic injuries fall under the category of workplace injuries and employers are usually covered against claims on workplace injuries by workers’ compensation insurance. The employees are not allowed to sue for workplace injuries except they can show that the employer was negligent in addressing the risks of such injuries or deliberately created such hazardous conditions. Also, a lawsuit may be an option id workers’ compensation is denied or contested.
Therefore, if there is no workplace compensation in place provided by your (employer) or you failed to address the risks, you may be sued and the employee may make a claim for a workplace injury.
Prevention Beats Cure
Avoiding lawsuits sounds good but preventing them definitely sounds and is actually better. Here are 5 great tips that can help you as an employer to prevent ergonomic lawsuits entirely or reducing its chances.
- Task Analysis and Re-engineering
To assess an employee’s workplace injury claim, it must be clear that the employer had exhibited negligence as regards to the working conditions. There are clear injury risk factors, therefore, it would be safe for you to put the first foot forward by reducing the job risk factors and personal risk factors.
A good way to reduce the job risk factors would be to carry out task analyses of each employee particularly those that are prone to ergonomic injuries due to the nature of their job. Task analyses would help to understand what exact activity of the job may cause an ergonomic injury.Also, smart businesses invest in careful process re-engineering. To reduce personal risks, employees should be made to go through customized training, their equipment may also be tailored to each worker and each employee’s ergonomic risk assessment. All these measures greatly ameliorate risk factors.
The costs may increase the working capital but in the long run, it makes for a healthier workplace, a more productive staff and ultimately preventing lawsuits.
- Training Employees in Proper Ergonomics
Employing health trainers to help employees with their postures, working styles and such little things as signs that indicate when to take a break or apply for a shift, can go a long way in preventing ergonomic injuries. This means to teach or engage in proper ergonomics.
Proper Ergonomics: Ergonomics simply refers to the interaction of people with their physical environment. The scientific knowledge about work environment, system or objects can be utilized to mitigate injuries and maximize productivity. As an employer, you have to ensure that there is proper ergonomics in the workplace especially according to OSHA guidelines and principles.
- Recognizing The Warning Signs
Most often than not, the damage is done by the time the signs of the disorders are noticed. However, it is still not out of place to put employees on notice on signs they should pay attention to that warn of an impending serious ergonomic injury. Some of these signs are: weakness, tingling or numbness, pain, clumsiness, consistent fatigue, strain etc.If the symptoms are noticed at an early stage, treatment can easily be carried out and permanent damage or injury is avoided, and the employee may still be able to work but maybe at another job or place or at a lower work rate. This can be very helpful in preventing a damaging lawsuit.
- Replacing Faulty Equipment or Updating Equipment
One of the fastest ways to get a lawsuit on your desk is for an employee to get injured while using a faulty or outdated equipment that has been complained about. For instance, broken ladders, outdated machines (bar code scanner), faulty computers can result in workplace injuries. Workplace methods and equipment have to be constantly replaced or updated to avoid resulting injuries. It usually amounts to negligence.
You can prevent resulting lawsuits by training workers on the safest practices or work methods, providing complaint forms on equipment and investing to replace or update and also providing a responsive safety care unit in case of an injury.
- Same-Level Falls
This is usually caused by slipping on wet surfaces in the workplace onto hazardous objects or terraces or tripping over objects and sustaining serious workplace injuries.
To prevent lawsuits from arising, potential areas or objects that may cause slips or tripping should be taken out or marked with “caution” to reduce risks. Also, the cleaning staff should be made aware of the risks being run if they neglect their duties. Hazardous objects should definitely be taken away and in good time. Over all, a regular workplace inspection will do the trick.
The Need to Hire the Best Personal Injury Lawyer.
If unfortunately a workplace injury does occur, and all the employee’s attempt to get his or her due compensation fails, then the only other option is to hire an experienced personal injury or workplace injury lawyer to help fight the case, and if necessary, go to court. The reason this might happen is because many employers will often not want to accept responsibility for the ergonomic related injury that their employees have suffered, and at such will delay, or otherwise use other tactics to avoid paying out a compensation. Which is where an injury lawyer comes in to defend your rights.