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How expensive is repetitive-stress injury really?

Letter to the Editor published on The Miami Herald on Monday, April, 2002

IN RESPONSE – It is encouraging to see that science finally has exerted its influence upon the U.S. Labor Department’s recent ruling to encourage, not force, businesses to make work-place changes to avoid repetitive-stress injuries (Businesses urged to trim job injuries, April 6). The Bush administration’s initial repeal of OSHA guidelines was appropriate in that it needed to study the real evidence regarding such ”injuries.” There is no doubt that a spinal fracture sustained in a construction site fall is work related; there is little controversy when a carpenter accidentally catches his hand in a circular saw. However, the remark of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., regarding secretary and cashier injuries is misguided. He is talking about common conditions in the general population, such as carpal-tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and mechanical low-back pain. These afflict most workers in general. Prospective randomized studies have demonstrated that these conditions aren’t caused by these activities per se, and legislation legitimizing these complaints as job-related costs society more money. The reason: litigation over repetitive-stress injuries. We only need to look at Australia to see our fate. The year that carpal-tunnel syndrome was determined compensable as a work injury, the incidence increased more than 100-fold, and settlement fees went through the roof. Then we will see how expensive repetitive-stress injury really is and how little money will be left for the hapless laborers who are seriously injured.

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