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Work Related Upper Limb Disorder (WRULD)

Work-related upper limb disorder is a term for a number of different medical conditions.

Repetitive, stressful work may cause injury, or aggravate a condition to certain parts of the body, particularly the shoulder and back. Work Related Upper Limb Disorders can also affect the hands and arms, and are amongst the more commonly encountered conditions caused as a result of the working environment.

The following are conditions that come under the definition of work related upper limb disorders:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel, which is in the wrist. This causes pins and needles, numbness and weakness of the hand or fingers.
  • De Quervains Syndrome, which is thickening of the fibrous sheath of the tendons.
  • Epicondylitis - pain and swelling where the muscle joins the bone at the elbow.
  • Golfers Elbow or Medial Epicondylitis, is pain and swelling where the muscle joins the bone at the elbow.
  • Peri-tendinitis - inflammation of the junction between the muscle and the thumb extensor tendons on the inner side of the wrist.
  • Tendinitis is inflammation of the tendons.
  • Tennis Elbow is inflammation of the synovium. The (Department of Social Security) definition is ‘traumatic inflammation of the tendons of the hand, or of the arm, or of the associated tendon sheaths’ trigger finger, which is a form of tendinitis where inflamed tendons become blocked in their sheaths, thus locking the finger.

The first problem to determine is whether you have suffered, or suffer from, a recognised disorder. Conditions of generalised fatigue or indeterminate aching will not form the basis of a successful claim.

The type of work that may cause upper limb disorders varies enormously. In every case the important factor is that an assessment has to be made by the employer about the risk of injury arising. In any case, it is necessary to show that an employer had, or should have had, knowledge that the work being undertaken by the employee carried a risk of injury. For this reason, an employer will need to have carried out a risk assessment.

It will be necessary to establish that the injury complaint relates to the employers negligence, as opposed to the work in general. To determine whether there has been negligence in the workplace, the process needs to be looked at, including actors such as the forces used, frequency of the movement and period over which the movement was proglonged, posture, any warnings issued, rotation of tasks, job design, supervision, advice and training. All of these aspects of the task will need to be examined carefully, to determine what steps could or should have been taken to minimise any risk of injury.

In any claim, the most significant issue in upper limb disorders is proving that the condition complained of has been caused as a result of the employer’s negligence. Some conditions are due to age, wear and tear. Some may be as a result of trauma and some may be caused by recreational activities.

The fact that symptoms are experienced when at work does not prove that the work is the cause. It may be that you may have contracted the condition previously, and the work has merely brought it to light, or it could be that it may be aggravating a very mild condition. An individual may be vulnerable to injury in certain circumstances, which was not known to the employer. There may be no breach of duty unless the activity concerned gave rise to a foreseeable risk of injury in a normal or non-vulnerable person.

What can you do?
It is important that medical advice is obtained as soon as possible. The employer should also be made aware of the condition. It is important that if a claim is to be made, a defined medical condition is diagnosed. This will assist with establishing whether the task at work was the cause.

It is important to obtain legal advice as soon as possible, as the full nature of the repetitive tasks will need to be considered. The amount of force used is relevant, as is the degree to which movements are undertaken by the fingers, hand and wrist, as opposed to the arm. The setup of the workstation may be important, along with whether there is a desk and chair, or a conveyor and workbench. Focusing merely on the number of items handled or worked upon can be misleading, since the repetitive task itself may not give rise to the relevant strain or stress of the muscles or tendons.

Your NewLaw specialist solicitor will ensure that a medical expert will explain the mechanical basis for any injury they diagnose. It may be important for the medical expert to explain about the onset of symptoms. For example, if you have been performing the same task year-in year-out without problem, then the reason for the onset of the symptoms at a particular time needs to be explained.

How can claiming for compensation help me?
Claiming compensation will give access to possible rehabilitation and treatment, as well as claiming  for the injury that you have suffered. Any associated losses or damages can also include loss of earnings, cost of treatment and supportive splints, together with compensation for any handicap on the labour market. 

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