Work Related Upper Limb Disorder WRULD - Fact or Fiction?

Work Related Upper Limb Disorder WRULD - Fact or Fiction?

Date: 11.01.2015

We all suffer from aches and pains and niggles during our working life and these can come on quite naturally through wear and tear of the spine and upper limbs but they can also be affected by heavy manual work, repetitive work, uncomfortable working postures and sustained by excessive force during the course of employment.

Various factors have the potential to cause ULD’s (or upper limb disorders) such as :

* Repetitive work

* Uncomfortable working postures

* Sustained or excessive force

* Carrying out tasks for long periods without suitable rest breaks

* Poor working environment and organisation

What are the warning signs for employers?

Warning signs can indicate the presence of hazards relating to ULD’s and they include :

* Injury and illness records

* Jobs which workers are reluctant to do

* Jobs where workers complain of discomfort

* Workers having more adaptations to workstations, tools or chairs

* Workers requesting to be redeployed or taken off a job 

* Splints or bandages being worn and/or use of painkillers

What are the symptoms ?

There is a wide range of symptoms such as tenderness, aches and pain, stiffness, weakness, tingling, numbness, cramp or swelling.

What specific conditions can give rise to an upper limb disorder in the workplace ?

* Carpal tunnel syndrome

* Tenosynivitis

* Epicondylitis

* Cubital tunnel syndrome

* Trigger finger

* Medial and lateral epicondylitis

* Shoulder tendinitis

* Thoracic outlet syndrome

* Shoulder tendonitis

There are many other conditions which come under the umbrella of an upper limb disorder and/or what was known as a repetitive strain injury.  Not all conditions have been primarily caused by strenuous repetitive or heavy work but many people can claim if there has been an aggravation to an already diseased area which has been brought forward by the type of work being carried out by the employee.

What duties do employers have to their workers and what happens if they fail to carry out such duties?

These duties are contained within a raft of health and safety legislation including the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health & Safety At Work Regulations 1999.  For an employer the emphasis has to be on control of the condition and/or workplace if previously they have been unable to avoid the need of that kind of work likely to cause injury to be carried out in the first place.

To an ordinary member of the public the most popular upper limb disorder usually relates to a keyboard operator or typist and injuries sustained as a result of repetitive use during the working day at your office.  Employers have specific requirements contained within the Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992 and in particular a risk assessment has to take place from an ergonomic point of view to ensure that there is no leaning, stooping or bending for prolonged periods which could give rise to an upper limb disorder.

Other types of work that can cause or aggravate an upper limb disorder include the following:-

* Heavy lifting or repetitive movement of goods whatever their size or weight within a confined area

* Use of heavy equipment or pneumatic tools, for example jackhammers, compressors, Kango hammers or the like

* Over use of equipment which has by itself created vibration to the upper body

* Repetitive lifting and/or movement of dead weights such as patients in care homes or the like

The Employers Duty in Action – (the Ali G case)

In the case of Ali Gaith and Indesit Ltd. Mr. Gaith was an employee of Indesit the well known suppliers of white goods such as washing machines, refrigerators and dish washers.  He was one of a number of Service Engineers employed to visit homes to repair and maintain white goods previously sold to customers and he was provided with a van full of machine parts and his job was to drive that van around his designated area which was near Peterborough.

It so passed that once a year Ali’s employers Indesit arranged a stock taking of the equipment in his van and one such stock take occurred on the 2nd March 2007.  Ali’s Supervisor arrived on that day and they did the stock take together.  The method used was that everything was taken out of the van, scanned and then noted on a computer record kept by Ali’s Supervisor who was nearby using a hand held computer.  The job involved Ali removing large items such as washing machines and drums had to be lifted in and out of his van and placed on the ground or on a trolley for examination; smaller items were lifted out and put into what was known as a tote box and then placed onto a trolley.  The court heard that the majority, 70% of the lifting and moving was done by Ali whilst his Supervisor occupied himself by doing the necessary scanning and recording of the relevant items.

Ali suffered from a back injury having worked for some hours moving equipment in and out of the van.  It was not possible for the court or Ali himself to give an estimate as to the weight of each item but the court concluded that the weight was not substantial.  However, Ali suffered injury following some hours of moving equipment in and out of the van and quite possibly as a result of the repetitive and boring nature of the job there may have been a moment of inattention which gave rise to an awkward lifting movement and thus the injuries that were sustained.

It is important to note that for the purposes of this Article that the weights involved were not substantial but that the repetitive movement of items in and out of the vehicle in awkward lifting conditions gave rise to the risk of injury.

The court concluded that the onus in cases of this type was on the employer to prove that he took appropriate steps to reduce the risk of injury to the lowest level practicable.  Quite simply, if the employer did not do that he would “usually” be liable “without more ado”.

The court went on to conclude that the onus is quite squarely upon the employers to show that they had taken appropriate steps to reduce the risk of injury which in this case they were unable to do so.

In concluding therefore this was a simple light repetitive lifting case but which legal liability was still placed at the employers door.

In concluding a simple risk assessment prior to the lifting task would have identified the risk of injury in light sustained lifting without appropriate rest periods and/or perhaps a sharing of the load between Ali and his immediate Superior.

Upper limb disorders therefore come in many guises and until proper expert assessment by a disease solicitor is undertaken you will never know whether you have the basis of making a claim.  At Johnson Law we have over 50 years experience of dealing with claims of this nature and deal with all manner of conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, beat knee, vibration white finger etc.

If you wish to obtain appropriate advice in relation to upper limb disorders then please telephone Johnson Law on 01204 529 900 and our specialised Client Services Team will ask you a few simple questions and refer your case to our expert disease solicitors who will contact you to discuss your claim further.