RSI Forced Me to Change Jobs: Case Study
With all the safeguards that are usually in place in offices these days to avoid workplace injuries and accidents, it's quite surprising that there are still so many people diagnosed with musculo-skeletal disorders (MSD) like Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). It's difficult to get an exact figure for the number of people who have been diagnosed with this type of disorder, as official statistics tend to group all MSD conditions together, but according to charity RSI Action, in 2006 nearly half a million people in the UK were diagnosed with some sort of RSI.
If you don't think you're likely to get RSI, think again. Figures (again from RSI Action) suggest that 4.7 million working days in the UK were lost due to RSI or related conditions just in the period from 2003 - 2004, and other surveys have since revealed that a staggering one in three computer users are already showing early signs of the condition.
Pippa's RSI storyOne person whose working life has been adversely affected by RSI is Pippa, now a self-employed writer but who worked for a Government department from 2002-2007. She was diagnosed with De Quervain's Tenosynovitis in 2003.
"The first time I noticed any pain in my hands was after I'd been working very hard on organising a mailing list for a big event that the office was organising," Pippa explained.
"In 2002, I was basically using a computer mouse to cut and paste names, addresses and contact details from one spread sheet into another, for around two days solid. I was never very good with taking long lunch breaks, as I preferred to leave early and take the minimum lunch break, and so I guess I must have been clicking that mouse non-stop for around 15 hours over two days, give or take half an hour for lunch.
"Ironically, a few days later, we had a visit from a workstation assessor, who asked us all about our set up. I mentioned the pain I was getting in my wrist to her, and she said she would write a report and make sure that the complaint was followed up by the in-house HR team. It never was, despite my nagging. The managers blamed 'staff shortages' of course."
"By 2003.I was in so much pain I couldn't hold a pen or grip a mug. Turning a key in a lock was excruciatingly painful. I went to see my GP and he diagnosed De Quervain's Tenosynovitis, a form of RSI which affects the tendon connecting your thumb to your wrist."
Pippa was given anti-inflammatory drugs for a month, but not told to rest her hands at all, and carried on working as usual.
"The medication did take the pain away" Pippa continued, "but as soon as I stopped taking the anti-inflammatories, the pain came back even worse and I had to go back to the doctor. He signed me off for a month and prescribed a wrist/hand brace to immobilise my right hand from the wrist to the middles of my fingers."
Seeking further help"I was a member of the PCS union and Benenden Healthcare through my work, and I decided to investigate whether I could get any help with medical care, as there was very limited help available for the condition I had on the NHS unless I wanted to opt for a cortisone injection; and even that had a long waiting list.
"I managed to get to see a specialist through the healthcare plan, but unexpectedly I was also advised that I could be entitled to compensation for my injury. By now I was into my second month of sick leave, and luckily I was still on full pay, but after the consultant told me I had a 60% chance of not being able to work full time again, I decided to speak to the union lawyers about a personal injury claim.
"I decided to try osteopathy for my wrist, although this wasn't covered by the healthcare plan, and this had a very beneficial effect on my condition. Osteopathy is a very gentle manipulation of tendons, ligaments and muscles which helps to get everything back into balance and working effectively. There's not a lot of blood flow to the area, which is why it can take such a long time to heal. Sometimes the appointments were quite painful, but I did start to see a gradual improvement.
The fact I'd told them about the problem, and they'd ignored me, meant there was a possibility of being able to prove that they failed 'in their duty of care' to me as my employers. I had a report from the consultant who had referred me on for a steroid injection, not a procedure I was looking forward to, but the letter mentioned my reduced chances of being able to work full time again. I was determined to prove her wrong, but that wasn't the point!"
The Compensation ProcessIf you think you might have grounds for a personal injury claim against your employer, you need to be able to prove:
- That your employer has a duty of care to you
- That they failed in that duty
- That the failure resulted in your injury
- That your injury was a 'foreseeable' result of the failure (and that a reasonable person would expect your injury to result from it.)
There are plenty of personal injury lawyers online who will be able to assess your case if you think you've been injured due to your employer's negligence. They tend to only take on cases that they think have a very good chance of winning, so be very honest about what happened and don't miss out any details - it's a long, boring process to go through for nothing.
Pippa's claim took almost a year to resolve, by which time she was back at work again.
"I was away from work for seven months in total, and only avoided having my pay dropped to 50% because the last month or so was categorised as 'gardening leave' while the office attempted to sort out a workstation and plan for my return.
"I did start back on a part-time basis to see how things went, and slowly built back up to full time again. I was excused from writing minutes or anything that caused me any wrist pain - and some things still did, even after seven months of no work. Writing by hand was worse than typing, for example.
"The HR department looked into voice recognition software for me, but I found that I didn't really get on with that because of the background noise in an open plan office. It also made me feel really self-conscious.
"The personal injury solicitor had been very hopeful when we started the claim process in 2003, but it turned out that his optimism had been misplaced, and when another lawyer took over my case, he advised me that I should settle the claim for a much smaller amount than his predecessor had suggested, an amount which barely covered what I'd spent on osteopathy over the months I'd been off sick, let alone the stress and worry it had caused me. I'd bought supplements, supports and tools to try and strengthen my wrists as well, and it had cost me a fortune.
"I agreed to settle for the low amount I was offered just to get the whole thing over and done with. Not many people knew about the legal action at work, and those who did were starting to treat me differently, as if I were a troublemaker. I missed out on a promotion in 2004 which I was sure was due to the injury and the claim."
RSI Long termUnfortunately, some forms of RSI are long term, and carry on affecting you indefinitely. Pippa says that her RSI has affected her life for over ten years now.
"I applied for a job in PR in 2007 and although I was offered the position based on the interview and examples of work, as soon as they found out I'd had RSI they withdrew their job offer"
"I work full time as a freelancer now but I know if I do too much because I get the tell-tale pains down my wrist. I can't handwrite much, which limits my job opportunities, and I have had to stop my hobbies of drawing and painting because holding a pencil or paintbrush for too long is very painful, even now."
Advice for anyone who thinks they might be getting RSI:If you think you may suffering from an RSI, here's what Pippa advised you to do as early as you can:
1. Tell your employer immediately...
Employers are legally required to protect you against injury in the workplace, so they should make the necessary 'reasonable adjustments' to your working conditions or desk to enable you to work comfortably.
2. See your doctor as soon as possible...
"Personally, drugs didn't help me," Pippa says, "although anti-inflammatories do help some people. I found resting my hand, along with osteopathy, worked best."
3. Seek advice from a personal injury lawyer...
Speak with a personal injury lawyer if you're diagnosed with RSI. "Don't expect to make a huge amount of money from it" Pippa warns, "but if your employer's negligence has led to your injury, don't be afraid to look into ways of claiming compensation for work time lost or for treatments etc."