Abstract: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes sure an injured person is not terminated from their job based simply upon the injury they have experienced.
“The signs and symptoms of a back disorder include pain when a person attempts to resume their usual posture, decreased mobility, as well as pain when rising or standing from a seated position.”
Document Detail: The prospect of experiencing a form of injury on the job is always present for those who work in a number of job environments. Having a job that requires a person to consistently lift heavy objects might potentially lead to injury. If a person in such a job position experiences an injury, their ability to perform the essential duties of their job may no longer exist.
When this happens it is the duty of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to make sure that the injured person is not terminated from their job based simply upon the injury they have experienced. An issue arises, unfortunately, because of the fact that the ADA does not have specified standards related to the amount of weight an injured worker can lift while still being considered to be, ‘disabled.’ Such was the position I found myself in both before and after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Working as a Nursing Assistant for many years, I lifted not only people, but the adaptive equipment they used as well. The equipment included everything from a simple cane to oxygen monitors and bottles, as well as both manual and power wheelchairs. As a young aide it was always my belief that someday I would experience a back injury if I did not lift correctly; how wrong I was.
Over time, osteoarthritis and knee, foot, and ankle injuries were the ones I experienced. It was not until later in life that I actually had a doctor place a weight lifting restriction on me of 20-25 pounds. Many people in America experience similar restrictions based upon recent or prior injuries whether they are job related or not. After the passage of the ADA, protections were supposed to be enacted. What exactly does the ADA have to say about people who experience weight lifting restrictions?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Weight Lifting Restrictions
The ADA says that a worker has to be, ‘significantly restricted in ability to perform…a class of jobs…compared to the average person with comparable training, skills and abilities.’ What this means is for a person to receive protection under the ADA, they must not be able to perform as well as the, ‘average,’ person. The rule is very ambiguous because there is not a clear definition of what, ‘average,’ is supposed to mean – we are all individuals. Even more, a person who can no longer lift heavy weights might not be protected by the ADA because, ‘The inability to perform a single, particular job does not constitute a substantial limitation in the major life activity of working.’
According to the ADA, for a weight lifting restriction to constitute a disability, a lifting requirement has to be issued that states a person is unable to lift 25 pounds. The court case, ‘Williams V. Channel Master Satellite Systems Inc.,’ demonstrated this matter. The jury decided that an, ‘average,’ person in the general population has the ability to lift 25 pounds and therefore an employee who is injured and can lift 25 pounds is not qualified as being, ‘disabled.’
Factors Associated with Back Disorders
The number of injuries that may find a person with a weight lifting restriction are many. A number of the injuries that find a person facing a weight lifting restriction have to do with back disorders. Back disorders result from exceeding a person’s tendon, muscle, or spinal column disc ability, or the cumulative effects of a number of different contributing factors such as:
- Heavy lifting
- Bending while lifting
- Reaching while lifting
- Twisting as a person lifts
- Maintaining a bent posture
- Lifting with forceful movements
- Poor posture as a person stands or sits
- Poor design of a person’s job or work station
- Repeated lifting of awkward equipment, items, or people
- Poor footing such as on slippery flooring or constrained posture
- Vibration such as with delivery drivers, lift truck drivers and so forth
- Poor body mechanics such as how a person pushes, lifts, pulls, or carries items
- Stressful living or working activities such as remaining in one position for too long
- Poor physical condition or losing the endurance and strength to perform physical tasks without strain
The signs and symptoms of a back disorder include pain when a person attempts to resume their usual posture, decreased mobility, as well as pain when rising or standing from a seated position. Additional contributing factors to a back disorder might include:
- Increased age
- Job dissatisfaction
- Congenital defects of a person’s spine
- Increased awareness of workplace hazards
- An increase in static sitting or standing tasks
- Decreases in physical exercise or conditioning
The manual handling of materials is the main source of compensable injuries in the United States’ work force. Four out of five of these forms of injuries affect a person’s lower back. When it comes to jobs that require heaving lifting, the ADA does not have specific regulations. Injuries involving heavy lifting can mean the end of a person’s job.
Back disorders may develop over time due to, ‘micro-trauma,’ caused by repetitive activities over time. They may also be caused by a single traumatic event. Due to the slow and progressive onset of this form of injury, the condition is one that many people tend to ignore until the symptoms become acute – something that many times results in a disabling injury.
Acute back injuries might be the immediate result of improper lifting techniques on the part of a person, or lifting loads that are too heavy for the person’s back to support. While the injury may appear to be caused by a single, well-defined incident, the real cause is many times a combined interaction of the observed stress in conjunction with years of weakening of the person’s musculoskeletal support mechanisms through repeated micro-trauma. Injuries may arise in the person’s ligaments, muscles, and vertebrae – either singly or in combination.
Even though back injuries do not account for work-related deaths, they do cause a significant amount of suffering, economic burden, and loss of productivity. Back disorders are one of the leading causes of disability for people who are in their working years and afflict greater than 600,000 people every single year at a cost of more than $50 Billion. The frequency and economic impact of back injuries and disorders on the working population are expected to increase over the next several decades as the average age of the people in the work force increases while medical costs rise.
No one is thankful for a work-related injury. As an aide I always did my best to follow correct lifting procedures. Yet somehow, injury followed me anyway. Lifting heavy objects is something many jobs involve, it is always in your best interest to ask for help if a person or object is too heavy to lift by yourself.
A Single “Lifting Restriction” Likely Not Enough to Win Disability
Bottom line – a 70 lb. lifting restriction will not, on its own, result in a finding of “disabled” in a Social Security disability case.
Manual weight lifting
The link between manual weight lifting and risks of trauma and musculo-skeletal disorders, particularly of the lumbar vertebral column, has been widely reported in the literature.
Back Disorders and Injuries
Back injuries should be treated as an injury on the OSHA 200 log regardless of whether the injury was the result of an acute or chronic exposure.
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