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Can Repetitive Trauma Injuries be Prevented?

Such is the question being asked right now by the Illinois Attorney General, the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Department of Insurance. Together they are questioning the validity of hundreds of claims that have been made and are currently pending by over half of the prison guards employed at an Illinois correctional facility.

At issue is over $10 million in claims that have been paid out over the past three years for repetitive trauma caused in the workplace. In fact 86 of 98 of the claims that have been made involve the repetitive trauma to their hands, arms, necks and backs. Claims for benefits were also made for recuperating from such injuries, including the cost of rehabilitation.

While the above number does sound extraordinary, it is not surprising that the repetitive nature of the work involved would lead to injuries by any employee involved in such work. The prison, built in 1878, does not have electronic locks as more modern facilities would. Instead prison employees are required to use their strength in their hands, arms and whole bodies in order to open a cell. The keys which unlock the cells are very heavy. Once the door is unlocked, the employee must manually turn a heavy crank in order to open each cell. This must be accomplished several times a day by the guard currently on duty, in order to let prisoners in and out of their cells for meals and exercise times.

The Department of Corrections has stated that installing electronic methods of locking and unlocking cells would be too expensive. Considering the extent of the claims being made and the amount of money required to pay benefits for such claims, electronic locks would certainly alleviate the problem and prevent the repetitive trauma that is at issue.

The outdated facility has obviously presented the potential for work-related injuries. While the investigation into how such injuries could have been prevented goes forward, the employees of the prison will continue on in their repetitive routine.

Source: The Southern, "Workers' comp at Menard Abused?," 31, Dec 2010

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