Everything you need to know if you hurt your back or neck while working
The human body is an amazing compilation of complex systems that serve uniquely important purposes in order to keep you functioning on a daily basis. Your spine, for instance, is an intricate structure protecting a sensitive bundle of nerves that are the electrical connections between your body and your brain. The spine runs up the length of your back and neck, which is where a large portion of work-related injuries occur.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 1 million workers suffer back injuries each year, and back injuries account for 1 of every 5 workplace injuries or illnesses.
American workplaces should take all appropriate steps to reduce the risk of back or neck injuries at work, but accidents still happen. If you hurt your back or neck while on the job, then it’s important that you understand your rights and responsibilities when it comes to workers’ compensation.
Most common types of neck and back injuries in the workplace
Any type of force exerted against your back or neck can cause injury to your spinal column. Whether your job duties include a lot of physical activity or prolonged sitting, your employer is obligated to provide all necessary training and information to help you stay safe and avoid injury.
The most common types of back and neck injuries that occur on the job in North Carolina and beyond include:
- Whiplash (from work-related car accidents)
- Lower back strain
- Herniated disc
- Thoracic spine injuries
- Cervical or vertebral fractures
A back injury at work may occur due to overexertion while lifting or moving a heavy object, from tripping or falling, being involved in a motor vehicle collision or from any number of other issues, including chronic conditions such as repetitive strain injuries.
Following a moderate to serious back or neck injury, you may be unable to return to the workplace for weeks, months or even, permanently, which can cause financial distress.
Symptoms of neck injuries or a hurt back at work
The symptoms of a neck or back injury are not always immediately apparent. In fact, you might not realize you’ve suffered an injury until hours after work after you’ve clocked out—or sometimes even days after the initial incident that caused the injury.
Seeing a doctor as soon as possible should be a top priority if you notice any of these symptoms following a work accident:
- Reduced mobility
- Stiff neck or upper body
- General discomfort that lingers
- Numbness or tingling in an extremity
- Swelling, inflammation or soreness
- Muscle weakness
- Burning sensation or shooting pain
A licensed physician should know what types of tests to perform to diagnose injuries of the neck or spine. Be sure to inform the attending physician about any recent accident at work that may be associated with symptoms.
Treatment options available for workers who suffer neck or back injuries
If you twist your back or lift something that causes a strain, you might be able to fully recover simply by taking a few days off work to rest. But many neck and back injuries require additional treatment and care. In some cases, surgery might be necessary, followed by physical therapy. Injuries that prevent you from being able to perform basic personal tasks (such as prepare food, shower, etc.) may require you to hire in-home care personnel to provide support during your recovery.
Medical care is expensive. A single trip to the hospital might equate to months worth of medical bills.
While medical treatment is intended to help you recover physically, the goal of workers’ compensation is to help you recover financially.
By filing a workers’ compensation claim, an eligible injured worker can collect benefits that not only help cover costly medical expenses but also help replace lost wages when a serious neck or back injury prevents an employee from being able to return to his or her job duties.
Can I sue for a back injury at work?
Most businesses and employers in North Carolina purchase workers’ compensation insurance to provide benefits to eligible workers who suffer injuries on the job. Under the North Carolina Workers’ Comp Act, an injured employee who wishes to file a claim for a back injury must show that his or her injury arose out of the course and scope of employment. Numerous factors help determine whether a specific injury is compensable.
You generally cannot sue your employer for negligence if you suffer a neck or back injury at work so long as they provide workers’ compensation benefits. However, you may have grounds for filing a third-party personal injury claim in a civil court against another person or party (who is not your coworker) in certain circumstances.
For instance, if malfunctioning equipment or a defective product caused your back injury, you may be able to seek restitution against a manufacturer. Likewise, if you suffered whiplash in a motor vehicle collision caused by someone else while driving for your job, then you may have legal grounds to seek compensation for damages from the at-fault driver or their insurance company.
What to do in the aftermath of a workplace injury
If you believe you hurt your back or neck injury at work, first you should get medical attention immediately. Even if you’re not in serious pain at the time, it’s best to obtain a medical assessment of your condition. Not only does this ensure that you begin any needed treatment as quickly as possible, but it also provides written documentation of the incident which may come in handy if you file a workers’ compensation claim or third-party lawsuit.
Next, you should notify your employer. Injuries at work should always be reported to your employer in a timely manner.
Lastly, if you’re unsure whether you’re eligible to file a workers’ comp claim or third-party personal injury claim for your back or neck injury, take a few minutes to discuss your case with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney at the Wilder Law Group. We are well-versed in all issues regarding workplace injuries and can recommend a best course of action in your particular set of circumstances.