Ergonomics play an important role in Workers’ Compensation. Work Injuries can be caused by poor ergonomics. Return-to-Work issues can involve the need for both ergonomic assessment and adjustment. Medical Treatment may involve the employment of ergonomic equipment.

This article will explore the field of Ergonomics and its impact on Workers’ Compensation Cases.

What is the Goal of Ergonomics?

Per the Centers for Disease Control and their National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “[t]he goal of ergonomics (i.e. the scientific study of people at work) is to prevent soft tissue injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) caused by sudden or sustained exposure to force, vibration, repetitive motion, and awkward posture.”

Thus, it is well recognized that exposure to force, vibration, repetitive motion and awkward posture can be causative force to a work injury. These MSDs can also occur when there is overexertion. This can also refer to repetitive motion involving microtasks. MSDs can involve other exertions or reactions. These sources of MSDs can include circumstances where matters are rubbed, abraded or jarred by vibration.

MSDs can include injuries and illness in which there is a herniated disc, hernias, meniscal tears, muscle sprains, muscle strains, numbness, pain, pinched nerve, swelling, or tears.

MSDs can include such conditions as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Epicondylitis, Low Back Injuries, Muscle Sprains, Muscle Strains, Raynaud’s Syndrome, Rotator Cuff Injuries, Tarsal Tunnel, Tendinitis, and Trigger Finger.

Are There Occupations that are at High Risk of Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Yes. There are a large number of occupations that are at high risk for musculoskeletal disorders.

These Occupations include Bus Drivers(transit and intercity), Firefighters and Prevention Workers, Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers, Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers, Janitors and Cleaners, Laborers and Freight Stock and Material Movers, Light Truck or Delivery Services Drivers, Maids and Housekeeping Cleaners, Maintenance and Repair Workers, General, Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters, Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers, Production Workers, Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors, Registered Nurses, Nursing Assistants, and Psychiatric Aides, Stock Clerks and Order Fillers, and Telecommunication Line Installers and Repairers.

MSDs play an important concern with respect to work injury prevention and causation of work injuries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2013, MSD cases accounted for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases.

How is the Goal of Ergonomics Achieved?

Per the CDC, “[t]o create an ergonomically sound work environment, NIOSH ergonomists and industrial hygienists recommend designing tasks, workspaces, controls, displays, tools, lighting, and equipment to fit employee’s physical capabilities and limitations.”

In the long run, it is a process that promotes safety in the workplace as well as reduce the risk of injury.

What Are Some Examples of Ergonomics?

Ergonomics applications can include adjustments to one’s seating arrangements, ie an ergonomically correct chair. Also, there can be adjustments to one’s desk and workstation. Various adjustments can be done to limit awkward postures.

Ergonomics, Medical Treatment and a Recent Independent Medical Review Decision

In a published IMR decision, there was the following comment made to overrule the UR determination denying ergonomic equipment

The MTUS ACOEM guidelines state,“ [i]t is often then helpful to discuss practical strategies for modifying the worksite to accommodate the worker and strategies to reduce the risk of recurrent injury, including addressing toxicological exposures, ergonomic factors, supervision, interpersonal factors, personal protective equipment, and task design.”  The IMR noted that

The requested ergonomic desk chair does qualify as a practical strategy for reducing the risk of recurrent injury. The current request is medically necessary. See 83 C.C.C. 1628.

In sum, the reason for requesting the ergonomic work-station was important. It was not about what could help the Injured Worker work but rather what can help an Injured Worker reduce the risk of recurrent injury regardless of where they are when they are using the equipment.

In sum, characterizing the need for the equipment under the guise of it assisting an injured worker return to the labor market is not of import when it comes to the issue of workers’ compensation medical treatment.

Ergonomic Assessments and Causation of Injury AOE/COE, A Caselaw Example

In a workers’ compensation reported case decision, the issue of whether a station was ergonomically correct was of import. In Cole vs. WCAB (2003) 68 C.C.C. 813 (writ denied.)

In the case, a Defense Ergonomic Evaluator was used to controvert a claim of a work injury. The expert indicated that the Applicant’s chair was correctly adjusted and that she was provided a lumbar support. Therefore, there was an argument that there was no showing that the Applicant’s chair was ergonomically defective. The Defendant’s Qualified Medical Evaluator found, as a result, that there was no aggravation of her pre-existing degenerative disc disease.

Thus, an Ergonomic Assessment can be used to defeat a claim of injury arising out of and in the course and scope of employment.

Ergonomic Equipment at Work Not to Be Considered as Medical Treatment

In Costa vs. SCIF, 2010 Cal.Wrk.Comp. P.D. Lexis 126 (Panel Decision), the WCAB reported that “[w]e are not persuaded that the recommended ergonomic equipment fits within the definition of apparatuses under the circumstances presented here, i.e. where the injured worker needs to have her work station modified at another employer’s place of business for as long as a physician recommends such modification.” The WCAB reversed the WCJ’s award of ergonomic equipment as an element of applicant’s award of further medical treatment.

Poor Ergonomics as a Mechanism of Injury

In Jackson vs. Shasta Lake 2016 Cal.Wrk.Comp. P.D. Lexis 155 (Panel Decision), to support a claim of injury, the records in the matter indicated that “the claimant was exposed to prolonged periods of time in which she had a suboptimal ergonomic arrangement for her desk, in which she has to raise her arms and shoulders too high, putting her in prolonged postures of cervical extension and shoulder musculature extension leading to increased pain and inability to continue to focus her attention on her work.”

What if I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.


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