When most people think of on-the-job injuries, they think of those that take place in “dangerous” jobs, such as construction, law enforcement, factory work, and the like. And while it’s true that severe or fatal injuries are more likely to occur in environments where workers have to use heavy equipment or deal with unpredictable circumstances, those who work in “sedentary” jobs, such as office workers, are just as much at risk for a workplace injury.
The most common workplace injuries
Every year, US-based Liberty Mutual insurance company compiles statistics related to workplace injuries based on the types of claims made by workers in that country. According to the 2014 report, the most common cause of workplace injuries was overexertion; that is, injuries caused by lifting, carrying, pulling, pushing, or holding. These types of injuries occurred across industries. For example, while construction workers were injured while carrying loads of supplies, just as many office workers sustained injuries while carrying heavy boxes or moving office furniture.
Other common workplace injuries among office workers include falls, being struck by other objects, tripping without falling (the injuries were a result of efforts to correct the fall), and repetitive motion injuries. In fact, the last injury on the list was the most common among sedentary workers, who sought treatment for pain in the hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders due working at computers.
Stress as a workplace injury
One type of workplace injury that doesn’t show up on the top 10 list, but that is a growing issue, is work-related stress. While a certain amount of pressure is to be expected in almost any job, when the pressure extends beyond the workplace and affects other aspects of one’s life or causes documented emotional and physical symptoms, it could be considered a workplace injury.
By law, employers are required to maintain a safe and healthy work environment, and when they fail to intervene to correct situations that cause mental harm to employees, they may be liable for those injuries. Such situations are common in office environments, but many employees don’t realize that they could seek compensation for their injuries, believing that stress is simply part of their job. This misconception is the most likely reason that stress-related injuries are not among the top reported injuries.
Office workers have rights, too
Imagine this: You’re walking from your desk to the copy room. On your way, you trip over a cord that someone carelessly left in the hallway. You don’t fall, but you twist your ankle and strain your back as you try to right yourself and keep from falling. A few days later, in excruciating pain, you visit the hospital — only to learn that you have a sprained ankle and pulled muscle. When you return to work the next day, you laugh about your clumsy ways to your co-workers, and go about your day.
If you are like many office workers, you probably don’t think to make a claim against worker’s compensation for your injuries. After all, you should have been paying closer attention and avoided the cord across the hall. However, as your medical bills pile up, and you lose quality of life, you begin to wonder if perhaps you should have reported the injury and sought compensation. Now that a few weeks have passed, your boss is questioning your claim, and you must get outside help with filing a claim.
The lesson here to all office workers is that even if an injury seems minor — you just trip, or bump into something, or have minor pain in your arm each night — it’s important to report it to a supervisor. Even if you think that the injury is your own fault (you just had to wear those sky-high stilettos!) there’s a strong likelihood that your employer bears some of the responsibility and you’re entitled to compensation.
Even if you are sure that your injury was caused by your employer’s negligence — even if you could have prevented it — there’s always a chance that your employer could refuse to accept responsibility. After all, there’s a perception that office workers are immune to injuries, and that paper cuts are the biggest risk they face. When an accident happens, it’s important that you document every aspect of the scene and the actions you took, to help support your case if it goes to court.
For example, even if you don’t think your injuries are severe, it’s important to see a doctor to document them. Taking photos of the scene, collecting witness statements, and writing down the details of what happened can support your case if your employer refuses to pay, and help prevent your case from dragging on.
So while your job might not be dangerous in the most conventional sense, there is always a chance that you can be injured on the job. Don’t let the perception that office workers are immune to injury cloud your judgment, and seek treatment — and compensation — when necessary.