Cumulative trauma claims persistently drive losses. Yet promising solutions exist.
or CT claims,
continue to harm
workers and drive
up costs. Defending
against these claims
and engineering, the
chance that workers
get hurt to begin with.
By Roberto Ceniceros
Repetitive motion, or cumulative trauma injuries, stubbornly persist as generators of workers’ compensation claims and productivity losses year after year. Not only do such injuries harm workers, they can even leave them permanently disabled. Remedies to these injuries do exist, however. Well-established risk
management and safety strategies are known to provide effective relief. Additional
risk-reduction opportunities exist for employers with those practices already in
place, including the adoption of an expanded, macro view of ergonomics; one that
considers how work gets done and the engineering of production processes.
Wellness programs are also showing early signs of helping mitigate the injuries
that typically stem from the constant repetition of the same motion, sometimes
Statistics show that risk mitigation practices have gradually slowed the overall
volume of CT claims, along with mitigating a broader category of injuries that
the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration calls “musculoskeletal
But several factors continue making repetitive motion injuries — commonly
referred to as cumulative trauma claims in California — and musculoskeletal
disorders persistent loss drivers.
Today’s younger workers begin taxing their small-muscle groups and motor
skills at an early age with the frequent use of modern devices like smartphones
and computer tablets. They now show signs of increased strain more typical of an
older worker, said Sean McDonald, Workforce Strategies Ergonomics Practice
Leader at Marsh Risk Consulting.
Simultaneously, aging workers now have more years of performing very
common, repetitive work motions like the twisting, bending and lifting, all of
which are known to eventually wear down body parts.
Employers with their eyes on the bottom line who push for increased
production are also taxing worker bodies more than before, especially when safety
engineering is not properly considered.
“As production goals keep going up, the impact on the human is not always
handled very well. So, you are asking more and more of people and you are
outpacing any basic ergonomics with the pace of productivity,” McDonald said.
Bill Spiers, VP and risk control practice leader for the Southeast at Lockton
“Because of our effort to try and drive production efficiencies, sometimes we
forget and leave out the effects that has on the human body,” Spiers said.
Repetitive stress cases, like OSHA’s broader category of musculoskeletal injuries,
often present claims payers with challenges less common than when injury causes
are easily witnessed and more obvious, as occurs with broken bones or burns, for
example. OSHA’s definition of musculoskeletal disorders includes upper and
lower extremity injuries. The disorders impact the muscles, nerves, ligaments,
tendons, and blood vessels with ailments ranging from carpal tunnel syndrome
and tendinitis to shoulder and lower-back strains.
ROOTING OUT THE CAUSE
Because repetitive motion or musculoskeletal injuries often occur over time, their
cause is commonly rife with uncertainty. It is challenging to separate out the impacts
of aging or harmful activities workers
may engage in away from the workplace
from legitimate, work-related causes.
About 85 percent of lower-back
pain is idiopathic, lacking a specific or
known cause, said Wayne Maynard,
product director, ergonomics, at
Liberty Mutual Risk Control Services.
That makes pinpointing a work-related cause challenging and can leave
employers paying for ailments they did
not contribute to.
“Because of our effort to
try and drive production
efficiencies, sometimes we
forget and leave out the
effects that has on the human
— Bill Spiers, VP and risk control practice leader,
Southeast, Lockton Companies
• Engineering risk out of work
processes is an important line of
defense against CT injuries.
• The vast majority of lower back
pain has no known cause.
• California is a hotbed of expensive,
post-employment CT claims.