The most common nonfatal work-related injury in South Carolina is overexertion, which causes one-third of on-the-job disabilities requiring employees to miss work. Overexertion can occur at a specific moment or develop over time as a result of repetitive work activities. If you sustain an overexertion injury on the job, you’re generally entitled to workers’ compensation benefits to pay your medical expenses and replace two-thirds of wages you lose while off work for treatment and recovery.
Most South Carolina companies and businesses with four or more employees must carry workers’ comp, which is no-fault insurance covering work-related accidental injuries and occupational illnesses. You don’t have to prove your employer was negligent in order to receive benefits. Even if you caused your own work-related injury, you may file a claim, and you cannot be fired or penalized for doing so.
Work Activities That Cause Overexertion Injuries
Manual laborers, construction workers, paramedics, nurses, nursing aides, orderlies, and other health care professionals are likely to sustain overexertion injuries as a result of:
- Standing, sitting, or bending over repeatedly
- Turning patients over or transferring them from bed to wheelchair
- Dragging, pulling, pushing, lifting, or carrying heavy objects
- Working in hot or unventilated spaces
- Maintaining an awkward physical position while working
- Using power tools or heavy equipment on the job
- Reaching overhead
- Kneeling or crawling
- Engaging in other repetitive motions, especially with arms, hands, and fingers
More than three-quarters of work-related overexertion injuries are strains or sprains, and more than half of such injuries affect the worker’s back. Other areas commonly injured by overexertion are the shoulder, trunk, upper extremities, and lower extremities.
Strains From Overexertion
Strains resulting from overexertion can tear or stretch soft tissues like muscles or tendons, sometimes affecting more than one body part simultaneously. Strains are categorized by degree according to their severity:
- First-degree strains are characterized by minor tearing of tissues, slight loss of mobility, and minor pain or tenderness of the affected area.
- Second-degree strains result in increased tearing of fiber, greater loss of mobility, bruising, swelling, and moderate pain.
- Third-degree strains occur when the muscle is actually torn away from the tendon. The injured worker can suffer severe pain, lose all function in the affected body part, and require surgery to repair the injury.
Sprains From Overexertion
Overexertion can lead to joint sprains that damage the ligaments connecting one bone to another. Like strains, sprains are divided by degree into three categories:
- First-degree sprains stretch the ligaments slightly. While there is little or no swelling of the affected area, you could suffer minor pain and a slight loss of mobility.
- Second-degree sprains stretch the ligaments enough to cause partial tearing. You’re likely to lose some function and suffer pain, swelling, and bruising in the affected area.
- Third-degree sprains are characterized by a rupture or complete tearing of ligaments, leaving you with an unstable joint, bruising, swelling, extreme pain, and complete dysfunction of the affected area. Surgery may be necessary to repair a third-degree sprain.
Preventing Workplace Overexertion Injuries
No matter how strong or healthy you are, your body requires time to recover from strenuous activities. If you’re given breaks on the job, you should use them to rest and recover rather than engage in recreation that entails physical activity. You should drink plenty of water to keep your soft tissues hydrated, get plenty of sleep at night, stretch your muscles before starting work each day, and ask for help or use assistive equipment when lifting or carrying heavy objects. Inform your supervisor and ask for a break if you notice these symptoms of overexertion while you’re working:
- Muscle cramps
- Joint or muscle pain
- Loss of consciousness
Employers can protect workers from overexertion by considering their physical limitations, providing assistive equipment for strenuous tasks, granting reasonable breaks, properly maintaining workplace equipment, and thoroughly training employees in safe workplace procedures.
What to Do If You Sustain an Overexertion Injury on the Job
If, despite the preventive practices described above, you suffer an overexertion injury on the job, it’s important for you to complete the workers’ comp filing process correctly and on time by taking the following steps:
- Report your injury in writing to your supervisor as soon as you become aware of it. State where, when, and how you exerted yourself. Include photos if you have bruising, swelling, or other external evidence of your injury. Although you have 90 days to report, you should do so as soon as possible.
- File your claim for workers’ comp benefits by submitting Form 50 from the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission (SCWCC) website. You actually have two years to file, but you should not wait. Any delay in reporting or filing can work against your claim, which your employer’s insurance company is likely to dispute if it’s an expensive or complicated one.
- See a doctor certified and recommended by the insurer, not your own primary care physician. Follow the doctor’s orders and treatment plan, keep all appointments, follow up on all referrals, take medication as prescribed, retain receipts and documentation of your treatment, and maintain a daily journal of your recovery.
If your claim is accepted, your health care providers can submit all of your bills to the insurance company, and you should start receiving weekly wage benefits soon. Ideally, you’ll go back to work when you’ve reached the stage of maximum medical improvement (MMI), and your doctor releases you to return to your job. If you’re given restrictions or an impairment rating that requires you to have a “light-duty” position, you must attempt to do that job or risk losing your benefits.
When to Contact an Attorney
If your injury is a first-degree strain or sprain requiring minimal treatment and less than a week off work, you might be able to handle your own workers’ comp claim as long as you meet all deadlines and your employer or the insurer does not dispute your claim. Today, however, insurance companies are more likely than ever to delay and deny expensive workers’ comp claims for serious injuries like a third-degree strain or sprain that could require surgery. For this reason, it’s a good idea to consult a worker’s comp lawyer under any of the following circumstances:
- Your employer or the insurer is unresponsive to your claim.
- You’re fired or penalized for filing your claim.
- You have a pre-existing injury or health condition.
- The insurance company adjuster asks you for a recorded statement.
- You’re forced back to work too soon.
- Your employer does not honor your impairment rating or work restrictions.
- After reaching MMI, you’re left with a partial or total permanent disability.
- You’re dissatisfied with your doctor or your treatment.
- Your injury was partially or completely the fault of a third party not affiliated with your employer.
- Your claim is denied for any reason.
Your attorney can address the insurer’s denial or delay tactics, make sure you complete the claim process correctly, meet all deadlines, and appeal your denied claim.