Repetitive strain injury claims

People who have repetitive strain injury (RSI) or, to use another recognised term, work related upper limb disorders (WRULD), broadly fall into two main groups.

The first are usually involved in production line work such as small assembly work, rapid packing or food processing and their jobs involve repeated rapid movements that do not necessarily involve heavy loads or long periods of time.

Using keyboards

The second group use keyboards and sometimes a mouse. All keyboard and mouse work can cause problems whatever the person's job is.

The symptoms are often due to continuous muscle contraction caused by being in a fixed position too long whilst the limbs are unsupported or supported in the wrong manner.

Any type of work where repeated rapid movement is a regular feature can cause an RSI condition to develop.

To obtain compensation an RSI claim has to be won using the same elements of tort of negligence that apply in all personal injury cases:

  • that the employer knew, or ought to have known, that the employee was exposed to risk of injury
  • given the foreseeable risk, the employer failed to take reasonable steps to prevent or reduce the risk of injury to the employee and
  • that the employee's injury was caused, or materially contributed to, by the work the employee was required to carry out and the employer's breach of duty.

It is important to remember RSI is not actually a recognised medical condition.

RSI is an umbrella term used to describe a fairly large group of musculo-skeletal disorders, which can include tenosynovitis, tendonitis, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, frozen shoulder, epicondylitis, etc.

The common thing about these conditions is that they may have been caused by repetitive movements or overuse. However, a number of conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, frozen shoulder and epicondylitis, are often not work related. Or it is impossible to prove conclusively that they have been caused by work.

Establishing causation

Establishing causation (the linking of the injury to the work environment) is often the major hurdle in taking RSI claims forward.

Whilst the medical profession has been making the diagnosis of RSI or WRULD for many years, the courts have been very slow to recognise it.

The difficulty claimants have to face is that the courts are concerned with absolute proof. Unfortunately, therefore, if it is not possible to establish a diagnosis of a specific and recognised medical condition there is little prospect of winning an RSI claim.

There is one particular medical condition which is particularly difficult as far as a personal injury claim and the Courts are concerned and that is diffuse RSI. This condition is a problem because there are no clinical signs or symptoms which can be readily identified and very few members of the medical profession recognise diffuse RSI.

Recording RSI symptoms

There are several commonly reported symptoms of RSI conditions. These include pain, swelling, tenderness, pins and needles, loss of sensation (numbness), muscle weakness, muscle spasms and loss of movement. They may however indicate a number of conditions and for an RSI claim to have any prospects of success there needs to be a viable diagnosis and a causative link between the medical condition and the work environment.

It is therefore important that the member records any symptoms at the early stage and attends their doctor. Medical records are vital in these cases. Poor recording of symptoms early on can be very damaging to a case.

There are some RSI conditions which are accepted by the courts as being work related - such as tenosynovitis, tendintis/tendonitis and de Quervains tenosynovitis; providing the link can be made with medical evidence that they are caused by the work environment, there should be no dispute about causation.

However, it would be wrong to assume that if a member is diagnosed as suffering from one of these conditions by a GP it naturally follows that there are good prospects for a successful claim.

If you are suffering from an RSI related condition and believe your employer to be responsible, please call 0800 328 3255 to register a claim.

Updated 28 Jan 2017

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