I think the general public would think that a sedentary work position would be less strenuous than a spot where the worker is on their feet all day moving boxes and boxes of product. For the most part this is true, but there are hazards in any position. It is the type of risk that differs. One position may suffer more acute-type injuries than the other, but even sedentary work carries the risk of a severe injury.
Ergonomics is the Culprit
It is essential in a heavy-duty job classification that you follow proper lifting technique, by lifting with the legs not the back, and by getting assistance with moving around large, heavy, product. Failure to follow this protocol can lead to certain injury with muscle strains, and even worse spinal injury.
Even sedentary work can carry an ergonomic risk. If you are working for 8-10 hours per day at a cubicle workstation that is not fit for your height, you can expose yourself to repetitive-movement injuries including carpal or cubital tunnel, or epicondylitis. Other common issues may be back or neck strains, or overall arm fatigue due to not following ergonomic rules. Adjustable workstations and chairs will lessen this risk, hopefully decreasing injury.
This is a new term, basically meaning that ergonomics is not left to just the cubicle alone. Depending on your profession, it is not uncommon to be working at home or telecommuting during work hours. Upright work stations can be considered the new rage: standing computer monitor/keyboard desks have allowed workers to get off their seats and up on their feet while toiling away at the laptop for hours on end. Today the diligent worker is considered one that is spending countless hours on their computer or laptop. Some people with offices even have treadmills that have a platform to hold up a computer monitor, allowing the worker to actually walk on a treadmill while reviewing documents or checking email. It is surprisingly more mainstream than you would think.
Sedentary work is not as encompassing as manual heavy labor. While sitting in a cubicle working, you are not involved in lifting 20lb boxes hour upon hour, but that doesn’t mean you are not working. “Brain labor” is a slang term I have heard of that coins the day to day work of the common office worker. By working with the brain instead of the brawn, these people are accomplishing their daily tasks hour after hour. So how can this lead to any sort of injury? Instead of thinking in the physical aspect, think more about the mental. My favorite example is of the claims worker involved in handling injury claims that are at various stages in their claim life. A person outside of this work may not think of the mental aspect of the claims professional. Oftentimes, there are thousands and thousands of dollars on the line, and the pressure is on to make the proper decision on the compensability of said claims. One error can lead to the acceptance or denial of a claim, which can cost your insurance carrier thousands of dollars in leakage, or even worse penalties or bad faith judgments for the denial of a claim that should have been accepted. Some people handle this stress better than others. No matter how you handle it, the job is stressful. Add in to that the fact that several higher-level executives may be critiquing your every move, and the pressure is on to perform at the top of your game. This constant pressure can morph itself into mental fatigue, which can then roll into a blown out stress issue. I know of many claim workers than have filed work comp claims themselves for stress, and have had to take leaves of absence or even change professions because they just cannot handle it. Joe and Jane Adjuster indeed have a tough job, and their brain is the muscle involved.
Compensability with sedentary workers
If a sedentary worker files a comp claim that is musculature in nature, it is often assumed it is not work related. The same could be said for the physical job worker, but one would think that person has a better chance of getting coverage than the sedentary worker. This may be true, but it will depend on the injury. Just because a sedentary worker claims to have work related carpal tunnel doesn’t mean it is automatically work related. The same can be said for the physical worker. The point here is that no matter what injury is claimed, and no matter what the position may be, it has to be investigated on a case by case basis. There is no blueprint that says a certain classification of work has more benefit of the doubt than another–there are just too many variables. No two people are the same, and that fact alone is what skews the statistics. Genetics, body habitus, prior health issues, and prior injuries all can lead to the complications of a claim investigation. So don’t be quick to deem a claim compensable or not based on the job title of a worker. You have to take the time to do a thorough investigation no matter what the worker does for a living.
Sedentary work carries its own risks and hazards, the same as a heavy-duty job. It is just different in nature. Sedentary workers will have less acute injuries and more that are repetitive in nature. The point again is you have to look at every claim on a case by case basis. To lessen risk, look to new technology that is evolving in the sedentary workstation. Breakthroughs have been made to make computer work less strenuous for the worker, and it is worth the investment if it lessens your claim bottom-line and your overall risk ratio.
Author Michael B. Stack, CPA, Director of Operations, Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is an expert in employer communication systems and part of the Amaxx team helping companies reduce their workers compensation costs by 20% to 50%. He is a writer, speaker, and website publisher.www.reduceyourworkerscomp.com. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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