There are many safeguards in place in most offices to avoid workplace injuries and accidents. Despite this, there are still many people diagnosed with musculo-skeletal disorders (MSD) like Repetitive Strain Injury, or RSI, as a result of their work. Anyone who has suffered an RSI Injury at work might wonder what rights they have in terms of sick leave and compensation.
Our case study looks at one worker’s journey with an RSI injury from symptoms and diagnosis through to getting compensation.
How Many People Suffer From an RSI Injury at Work?
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 story
One person whose working life has been adversely affected by RSI is Pippa. She is now a self-employed writer but who worked for a Government department from 2012-2017. She was diagnosed with De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis in 2013.
Onset of RSI Symptoms
“The first time I noticed pain in my hands was in 2012. This was after I’d been working on organising a mailing list for an event the office was organising.” Pippa explained.
“I was using a computer mouse to cut and paste names, addresses and contact details from one spread sheet into another. This was for around two days solid. I was never very good with taking long lunch breaks, as I preferred to leave early and work through lunch. So I was 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. They 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.”
Diagnosis of RSI at Work
The pains in my wrist would come and go. However, in early 2013 I found myself in so much pain that I couldn’t hold a pen or grip a mug.
Turning a key in a lock was very painful. I went to see my GP and he diagnosed De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis. This is a form of RSI which affects the tendon connecting your thumb to your wrist.”
Pippa was given anti-inflammatory drugs for a month. However, she was 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 anti-inflammatories, the pain returned and I had to go back to the doctor. He signed me off for a month. I was prescribed a wrist/hand brace to immobilise my right hand from the wrist to the middles of my fingers.”
Seeking Further Medical Help
“I was a member of the PCS union and Benenden Healthcare through my work. So I decided to investigate whether I could get any help with medical care. There was limited help available for the condition 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. 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, this had a very beneficial effect on my condition. Osteopathy is a gentle manipulation of tendons, ligaments and muscles which helps to get everything back into balance. 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.”
“I started the process of claiming against my employer, on the advice of the solicitors who thought I had a very good case against them.
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. This was 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!”
Getting Compensation For Workplace RSI
If 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. Also that a reasonable person would expect your injury to result from it.
Speaking to a Personal Injury Lawyer
There’s plenty of personal injury lawyers who will be able to assess your case if you’ve been injured due to 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.” She explained.
Returning to Work
“That said, 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 2013. But it turned out that his optimism had been misplaced. When another lawyer took over my case, he said that I should settle the claim for a much smaller amount. The amount barely covered what I’d spent on osteopathy, 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. It had cost me a fortune.”
Settling the Claim
“I agreed to settle for the lower amount offered just to get the whole thing over and done with. Not many people knew about the legal action at work. Those who did were starting to treat me differently, as if I were a troublemaker. I missed out on a promotion in 2014 which I was sure was due to the injury and the claim.”
Long Term Effects of RSI on Career
Unfortunately, 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 2017. 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”
“Thankfully, 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. 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.”
If You Think You May Be Getting RSI at Work:
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.”
Our guide on how to avoid RSI at work looks at common risk factors and solutions to help make repetitive strain injury less likely.