Most workers recognize that an injury from a sudden event (like a trip and fall or lifting a heavy object) is an accident that can be covered by workers’ compensation. It’s important to know that injuries that are the result of repetitive trauma – tiny impacts that accumulate over time – can also be covered by workers’ compensation.
In some cases, the repetitive trauma is due to the nature of the person’s work. If that is the situation, then the injuries may be covered as an “occupational disease” under the Workers’ Compensation Law. For example, in one recent case the Workers’ Compensation Board found that knee injuries for a highway repairer were covered by the law because his job required him to walk for hours in employer-provided boots, in and out of equipment and machinery, and kneeling to repair curbs for many hours each day.” All of these things were part and parcel of his job duties, and as a result the injuries were considered an occupational disease.
In other cases, the worker may be subject to a specific condition in their workplace that is not due to the nature of their job, but instead due to an unusual or extraordinary condition. For example, in another recent case a retail worker’s employer required her to walk around the store to pick order items and bring them to the shipping area. She developed plantar fasciitis as a result of the hard floors in the store. The Board found that her injury was due to “the unusual environmental conditions/events assignable to this extraordinary combination,” and held that the claim was covered as a “repetitive trauma accident.”
Whether any particular situation will be covered depends on its own facts and the strength of the medical evidence, but workers should be aware that injuries that occur over time may be covered the same way as sudden accidents.