Pre-existing, degeneration or a once off incident

Posted by Andrew McGiffert |06 Apr 12 | 0 comments

Pre-existing, degeneration or a once off incident

In an interesting case put before the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission a worker has successfully argued that his spinal injury, which was triggered by a relatively minor action was caused by repetitive lifting and bending over a period of 18 months, even though he had experienced no symptoms during this time.

  • The workers duties included:
  • Loading and unloading trucks;
  • Manually bending frames and wires for bed frames;
  • Lifting and dragging spring units weighing 13-20kg;
  • Lifting double spring assemblies weighing 20-25kg;
  • Decompressing up to 300 spring units a day before dragging them across the factory before stacking.

There is no doubt that the worker was involved in intensive manual handling tasks. However the incident which occurred in September 2008 did not involve any hazardous manual task, the worker bent over to pick up a piece of foam weighing about 2kg when he felt a ‘pop’, followed by lower back pain and sciatica. He was taken to hospital and underwent surgery on a spinal disc protrusion.

The employer denied liability after 18 months. An engineers report on tasks performed by the worker at the time of injury “would not approach or exceed any published lifting criteria” and that it was “unlikely that he had experienced sudden damage caused by intense or strenuous activity”. The report wen on to document that many of the other tasks in the workplace were “shown to exceed well documented guidelines aimed at managing risk for workers experiencing low back damage”.

The commission heard conflicting medical evidence regarding the extent to which heavy manual work contributed to the injury. It was argued by two surgeons that the injury was pre-existing, asymptomatic spinal degeneration.

Commissioner John Thompson likened the incident to “the straw that broke the camels’ back”, referring to one neurosurgeon who said the main cause of the workers injury was the weakening of his spine due to heavy manual work.


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