Engaging in repetitive motions is a major part of a lot of maritime jobs. Whether you are a longshoreman, a seaman, or an oil rig worker on the outer continental shelf, you may be at risk for a repetitive use injury and you have rights to compensation if you develop one of these painful and potentially debilitating medical conditions. There are federal maritime laws in place to provide you with the compensation whether or not your injury was caused by negligence.
What is a Repetitive Use Injury?
This kind of injury, which also may be referred to as repetitive motion, stress, or strain injury, may occur when you repeat the same motion over and over again. For instance, a common such injury in office workers is carpal tunnel syndrome, which results from the motion of typing on keyboard, something that many office workers do all day every day.
A repetitive motion injury causes damage, which may be temporary or permanent, to muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves. In many cases a nerve may become pinched because of the injury, which is the main cause of the symptoms. Symptoms of a repetitive motion injury include pain, swelling and redness, a tingling sensation, numbness, and even restricted movement or loss of strength in the area of the injury.
Types of Repetitive Use Injuries in Maritime Work
There are many different kinds of repetitive stress injuries and many that are common to maritime workers. If you engage in the same physical activity on the job every day, you could be at risk for one of these injuries. For instance if you have to lift things up to high spaces every day, you could end up with an injury to your shoulder from that repeated movement. Here are just some of these injuries that maritime workers may be vulnerable to developing:
- Rotator cuff syndrome – a shoulder joint injury
- Tendinitis – inflammation in a tendon in any joint
- Bursitis – inflammation of a bursa, the fluid-filled sack that provides cushioning in joints
- Carpal tunnel syndrome – a wrist injury
- Tenosynovitis – inflammation in the sheath covering a tendon
- Trigger finger – inflammation in the tendon and covering sheath in a finger or thumb
- Tennis elbow – injury and inflammation in the elbow joint
Maritime workers are also vulnerable to many other repetitive motion injuries like neck pain and inflammation, permanent nerve damage, and even injuries unrelated to joints like hearing loss.
Treating Repetitive Stress Injuries
The initial first treatment for these injuries usually to rest the damaged area. For instance if you have pain and inflammation in your elbow, your doctor will likely direct you to stop engaging in the motion that caused the damage. Sometimes rest and ceasing the repetitive motion are enough to allow damage to reverse and the body to repair itself. Stretching exercises and physical therapy can support the natural process of healing through rest.
To treat the symptoms like pain and swelling, icing the affected area can help, as can the administration of over the counter pain medications. When these measures along with rest and physical therapy don’t help, surgery may be needed to correct damage. This is rare, but it is possible that the damage from repetitive use is severe enough that only surgery can repair it. Prevention is also important. Ergonomic equipment and rest periods at work can help to prevent injuries.
How Negligence Can Cause Injuries
As a maritime worker your duties put you at risk for injuries, but your employer is ultimately responsible for ensuring that all measures are taken to prevent these injuries. Negligence may include forcing you to work hours that are too long or not allowing you to take breaks to rest. Another form of negligence is training and safety measures. Your employer may be negligent in your repetitive stress injury if you have not been properly trained to use equipment or in how to prevent these injuries.
Your Rights for Repetitive Motion Injuries
If you are injured because of repetitive stress on the job and your doctor says you can’t work for a period of time, you have the right to have your medical expenses related to the injury covered as well as your lost wages. Under the maritime law of maintenance and cure you are entitled to medical care and living expenses while you can’t work. If negligence was involved and you are a seaman, the Jones Act entitles you to further compensation. As a longshoreman or continental shelf worker you have federal workers’ compensation programs to provide you with money for treatment, lost wages, and other expenses.
If you suspect that you are suffering from a repetitive use injury caused by your job duties, get medical treatment and get it documented. Also file an injury report with your employer and then seek a qualified attorney to help guide you through the process of getting compensation through the federal maritime laws that apply to you.