Lifting or carrying heavy items is one of the most common causes of workplace injuries, accounting for more than 36 percent of missed work days due to injuries to an employee's back or shoulders.
If you sustained a lifting injury at work, you may need to file a workers' compensation claim. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can do that for you.
How Do Workplace Lifting Injuries Happen?
There are four stages to lifting an object that many workers don’t even think about until they’ve suffered an injury.
Those stages involve:
- Preparation: This is where the individual thinks about how heavy the load they are about to lift is, whether they need assistance carrying it and whether they can divide the load into smaller pieces to make it easier to carry. Preparation for lifting a heavy load also involves considering where the load is going, the flooring on which you will carry it, and whether someone needs to open doors along the way.
- Lifting: Safe lifting techniques include standing as close to the object as possible, keeping the elbows and arms close to the body, and the back straight. Safe lifts use the stomach and bent knees muscles and do not involve a twisting motion.
- Carrying: Safely carrying a heavy object also involves avoiding twisting the body. The elbows should remain close to the sides.
- Setting down: Heavy loads set down using the same steps as safely lifting the object, only in reverse. The carrier should wait until the weight of the load is on the ground before releasing the handhold.
Injuries most often occur from improper procedure, failure to obtain assistance from another person or machine to carry a heavy load, awkward positions such as twisting the body or carrying the load with bad posture, inadequate handholds, and frequent lifts or carrying heavy objects a long distance.
Environmental factors can also cause lifting injuries because of:
- Snow, ice, or rain can result in slick surfaces that place the person at risk of injury if they slip while carrying a heavy load.
- The body’s muscles are less flexible in cold temperatures.
- Lifting heavy objects in hot temperatures can cause the body’s systems to become overheated and stressed.
- Poor lighting or low visibility can also result in trips and falls during lifting procedures.
Types of Lifting Injuries
More than 86,000 U.S. workers sustain lifting heavy objects in the workplace each year from overexertion.
Some of the types of injuries that can result from lifting objects include:
- Damage to the spinal vertebrae (the small bones in the spine) or discs (the cushioning provided between the vertebral bones in the spine). This type of injury can lead to chronic pain, loss in the range of motion, and even instability in the back and can require surgery to repair.
- Hernias occur when the bladder or intestine pushes through the muscle in the abdomen or groin. One of the most common causes of hernias is heavy lifting without adequate stabilization of the abdominal muscles.
- Strain injuries, including pulled muscles and torn tendons or ligaments.
- Damage to the joints because of the lift
Lifting injuries also increase the sufferer's risk of long-term and progressive conditions such as tendonitis and osteoarthritis. Dropping the load can cause additional injuries, including broken bones in the hands or feet.
The Impacts of Lifting Injuries
Most lifting injuries resulting in missed days from work do not require medical treatment. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 14,000 cases result in emergency room treatment, and more than 1,300 of these injuries result in in-patient overnight hospitalizations.
Some of the impacts of lifting injuries include:
- Chronic pain impairs the sufferer’s ability to perform their job and other activities they enjoy.
- The need for surgery to repair hernias, damage to the spinal vertebrae or discs, or other damage caused by the injury.
- Long-term stress or anxiety from dealing with symptoms of the injury and the financial impact of missed work and attending medical appointments.
Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim
For most workplace lifting injuries, workers can seek compensation through their state’s workers’ compensation program. Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance policy most workers are required to provide for their employees.
While the process of obtaining compensation after a workplace injury varies according to state laws, some general provisions are true for filing a workers’ comp claim in any state, such as:
- A worker injured on the job must inform their employer of the injury as soon as possible and obtain prompt treatment. The employer is responsible for informing their insurer of the injury and often must notify the state agency tasked with overseeing workers' compensation provisions.
- All workers begin with temporary total benefits for their injury and are generally required to miss several workdays before wage loss replacement begins.
- In some states, workers can choose their physician to treat their injuries. In other states, the worker must obtain treatment from a physician their employer or insurer chooses.
- The worker must follow the physician's treatment instructions. The worker will receive temporary benefits until they've reached maximum medical improvement, which is the point when their doctor determines that they have likely obtained the highest amount of recovery from their injury possible, even if treatment were to continue. At that point, the worker will know if they can return to the tasks they normally do in the scope of their employment; whether they can need to secure a different job; or whether the injury prohibits them from performing any job-related tasks.
- Injured employees cannot receive workers' compensation benefits for temporary injuries indefinitely. For example, in Minnesota, the maximum time an individual can receive temporary total benefits is 130 weeks. They may receive temporary partial disability benefits for up to 225 weeks. In Wisconsin, the number of weeks a worker can collect wage loss benefits depends on the state's losses schedule.
Limited Circumstances to Seek Compensation Through the Personal Injury Claims Process
While workers' compensation covers most workplace injuries, there are some limited circumstances in which a personal injury claim is an appropriate action to take to obtain compensation for the injury. Those circumstances involve accidents a third party (someone who is not your coworker or your employer) caused.
Examples of the type of workplace lifting accidents that can result in a personal injury claim include:
- Accidents when the individual trips or slips at the workplace while carrying a heavy object due to clutter, liquid, or debris at a job site that a worker of another on-site company left.
- Accidents in which the object being lifted and carried comes apart during transport due to product defects, resulting in injuries to the worker.
The Types of Benefits Available if You’ve Experienced a Lifting Injury
The most important benefit received through a workers’ compensation claim for most workers experiencing an injury is the replacement of lost wages and help with medical bills. Here is a look at all the benefits beyond wage replacement.
As previously mentioned, where the injured worker seeks treatment depends on the workers' comp laws in their state. In Wisconsin and Minnesota, for example, many employers will offer to set an appointment for the worker or suggest that the worker use a specific doctor for their treatment. However, the laws in each state allow the injured worker to choose the physician who treats their workplace injury.
The role of the workers’ compensation doctor is to provide the following services for the worker:
- Diagnosing the medical condition and determining that it is work-related.
- Providing medical treatment for the injury depends on the injury sustained. Treatment includes diagnostic testing, hospitalization services, prescription medication, physical therapy, and follow-up appointments.
- Refer the worker to a specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon.
- Determining if you can perform the usual tasks of your position despite the injury, if you can work with restrictions of certain tasks, or whether you are temporarily or permanently disabled and unable to perform the tasks of any position.
- Determining when you have reached maximum medical improvement and the limitations on your ability to work at that point.
Wage Loss: Temporary or Permanent, Partial or Total
Different injuries require different recovery periods and can sometimes leave the person permanently unable to work or force them to accept a lower-paying position that features tasks they can do despite a permanent injury.
There are four types of wage replacement provided through a workers’ compensation claim, including:
- Temporary partial disability: Doctors believe the worker sustained temporary injuries. They can still perform some work-related tasks, but not everything their position requires. Temporary partial disability compensates the worker for the loss of wages experienced as a result of work restrictions while recovering from their injury.e
- Temporary total disability: This wage replacement involves workers who substantially cannot perform the tasks of their job due to the injury, but doctors believe that the worker will make a full recovery and return to work as their recovery progresses.
- Permanent partial disability: This wage-loss compensation is available for those who suffer a permanent injury that allows them to continue working but permanently removes their ability to perform some job-related tasks.
- Permanent total disability: This is the highest level of compensation for a workers’ compensation claim for individuals who suffered a permanent injury in the workplace that results in permanent disabilities that prevent them from performing any job-related tasks.
Lifting injuries seldom result in the death of a worker, though this is a possible outcome. Workers’ compensation in most states also provides a death benefit to pay for funeral and burial services and compensate the deceased’s family members for the loss of wages represented by the worker’s death.
How an Attorney Can Help You With Your Claim
Workers' compensation benefits are generally available for the worker, regardless of who was at fault for the accident that resulted in an on-the-job injury. However, workers' comp can still deny a claim if the employer or insurer believes that the injury was not job-related or resulted from an intentional act committed to obtain benefits.
A workers’ compensation attorney can assist claimants with:
- Appealing a claim denial
- Seeking permanent disability benefits
- Helping the claimant to receive delayed benefits resulted from the employer's failure to obtain the required insurance policy or failure to file the claim on their employer's behalf.
If you sustained a lifting injury at work, you may need to file a workers' compensation claim. Contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney from Nicolet Law Office for a free consultation today.