There are many ways in which you could hurt your back at work, including poor sitting positions, slips, trips and falls or manual handling accidents. In the UK, 300,000 people suffer back pain at work due to manual handling accidents alone each year.
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 places a duty of care on employers to take all reasonable measures to try and protect their staff from injuries. A breach of these duties would make your employer responsible for your accident and might entitle you to make a back injury at work claim.
Injuries to the back can range from minor sprains and soft tissue injuries to slipped discs, paralysis and other spinal trauma. Even a mild sprain or strain may cause significant distress and affect your ability to work and carry out daily activities.
If your employer or another party was responsible for your accident, a personal injury lawyer could help you get compensation for your suffering and any related financial losses you incurred.
Can I make a back injury at work claim?
Employers have a legal duty dictated by the relevant legislation to protect the health and safety of their employees in the workplace. Any breach of their responsibilities could make them liable if you suffer a back injury at work and might entitle you to claim compensation.
The easiest way to find out if you have a valid back injury at work claim is a free consultation with a legal adviser. They will evaluate the circumstance of your accident and ask you some questions to determine whether:
- Another person caused you to hurt your back at work by acting negligently
- That person or organisation owed you a duty of care
- You suffered an injury and financial losses as a result
If you have valid grounds to claim compensation for your back injury at work, your solicitor will likely offer you a no win no fee agreement. This is the preferred way to fund a personal injury claim due to several unique advantages it gives to claimants, including:
- You can take legal action regardless of your financial situation;
- You do not have to pay any upfront fees to your solicitor;
- You do not have to pay your legal representative at all if your case fails;
- Your solicitor will also take out an After the Event (ATE) insurance policy on your behalf, which covers all your legal charges and disbursements if your case fails;
- You will not be left out of pocket if you lose your accident at work claim.
The no win no fee agreement means you only have to pay anything if your case is successful. This includes the cost of the ATE insurance policy and a success fee paid to your solicitor, which cannot exceed 25% of your compensation award.
What are the most common causes of back injuries at work?
Back injuries at work can be caused by a wide range of poor practices or traumatic accidents. The most common causes leading to back injury at work claims include:
Slips, trips and falls
Slips, trips and falls can be caused by uneven surfaces, poor lighting, slippery floors, obstacles left in walkways and many other hazards. A slip or trip can result in a minor sprain or strain injuries but may also lead to severe back fractures, herniated disks or damage to the spinal cord.
Falls from a height
Falls from a height can cause severe back injuries that may have devastating consequences for the victim and their loved ones. Some common causes include ladder accidents, lack of suitable protective equipment, lack of anti-slip protection and poorly constructed scaffolding.
Falls caused by broken equipment or furniture
Damaged shelving, faulty protective equipment such as harnesses, broken chairs and many other defective items may cause a back injury at work. Based on the circumstances of your accident, the liable party could be your employer or the product manufacturer.
Objects falling from a height
Items not being stacked properly, lack of safe storage facilities, usage and transport for workplace materials, and other poor workplace practices may cause objects to fall and land on your back. Depending on the weight of the object and the height it falls from, injuries may range from minor bruising to severe fractures and spinal cord trauma.
Manual handling accidents
Employers have a legal duty to provide proper training and equipment whenever a manual handling activity cannot be avoided. Poor lifting techniques, excessively heavy loads, incorrect posture while carrying a load, and lack of adequate breaks usually cause back injuries to develop over time. These include herniated disks and lumbar strains that often cause long-term or permanent damage.
Strenuous physical work
Strenuous physical work may include repeated crouching or bending over, and is common in medical professionals such as nurses who are constantly on their feet without adequate breaks to sit down and rest the spine. Over time, these activities can cause severe damage to the muscles and tendons in the back and may lead to chronic pain and mobility issues.
Repetitive tasks and posture issues
Repetitive movements such as pulling, straining or twisting and spending long periods in a fixed position can weaken and stress the structures of the spine and result in wear and tear of the muscles, ligaments, tendons and spinal disks. Working at the computer or driving for hours on end in chairs not designed for spinal support can also cause you to suffer back pain at work.
Forklifts are one of the most used modes of transportation for heavy loads and are indispensable in many industries. They are also the most dangerous form of workplace transport in the UK, and a forklift accident may cause severe spine fractures with devastating consequences.
Regardless of how you suffered back pain at work, if another party caused it by acting negligently, you might be entitled to claim compensation for your pain, suffering and financial losses.
What type of back injuries could I claim compensation for?
The back is one of the most injured body parts in workplace accidents. While some injuries to the back may heal within weeks without the need for medical treatments, others may require surgery and a prolonged recovery period. Severe trauma to the spinal cord can lead to permanent debilitating consequences, such as paralysis and loss of bladder and bowel function.
The most common injuries leading to a back injury at work claim include:
Soft tissue injuries
Some of the most common soft tissue injuries to the back include cuts and lacerations, bruising, sprains and strains. These can be due to blunt trauma, falls, coming into contact with machinery or putting unnecessary stress on the spine.
Strains occur when you twist or pull a tendon or muscle in your back, while sprains occur when ligaments are torn from their attachments. Both injuries can be debilitating and cause symptoms such as back pain, stiffness, muscle spasms and restricted mobility.
Sciatica pain is caused by the inflammation, pinching or compression of a nerve in the lower back. It may be due to many causes, such as lifting something heavy or sitting for extended periods without breaks. It is most common in construction workers, drivers, nurses and warehouse employees.
Common symptoms of sciatica include muscle weakness, tingling, and burning sensations down the back of the leg. In severe cases, it may cause the loss of bladder and bowel control. If you developed sciatica due to your employer’s negligence, you might be able to make a back injury at work claim.
A herniated or slipped disc can be a very painful injury and occurs when a vertebral disc gets compressed or moves out of alignment with the spine. This could be due to several reasons, such as lifting heavy objects or operating heavy vibrating machinery for extended periods.
Occupations that are at high risk for slipped disc injuries include construction and factory workers, lorry and truck drivers, warehouse workers and landscape gardeners. The symptoms can be debilitating and include pain in the arms or legs, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling.
Spinal fractures are due to severe trauma to the back, which could be caused by a slip or trip, a fall from a height or a vehicle accident. But a spinal fracture may also develop in time due to overuse and repetitive motions. These injuries can vary widely in severity and cause moderate to severe back pain that worsens with movement.
Some other common symptoms of vertebral fractures include painful breathing, numbness and weakness. Depending on the severity of your injury, it may be treated with bracing for 6 to 12 weeks, or you may require surgical intervention.
Spinal cord injuries
Spinal cord injuries are the most severe injuries to the back and usually stem from a sudden, traumatic blow to the spine that causes one or more vertebrae to fracture, dislocate or compress. If major nerves are damaged, your injury can permanently affect your mobility, respiratory system and bodily functions such as bladder and bowel control.
If the spinal cord is not entirely severed in the accident, you may recover some motor or sensory functions. A complete spinal cord injury will usually cause total loss of function below the injured site, resulting in tetraplegia, triplegia or paraplegia.
For a free consultation with a legal adviser, call 0800 678 1410 or enter your details into our online claim form to receive a call back. They can let you know if you may be eligible to claim compensation for your back injury at work and can answer any questions you may have.
What should I do if I suffer a back injury at work?
If you suffer a back injury at work and believe that your employer was at fault for your accident, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. An experienced solicitor will be able to determine if your employer or another party breached their duty of care towards you and whether you could claim compensation for the damages you incurred.
If you have a valid case, they will offer advice and support throughout the claims process and help you gather the evidence you need to start legal proceedings. This evidence could include the following:
- Medical reports assessing the extent of your injury, treatments you received and your recovery prospects;
- Photographs of the accident scene, capturing the hazard that caused your injury before anything is moved or repaired;
- Photographs of any visible injuries you suffered and damage to your personal items;
- Photos of your working environment, if your back injury at work developed over time due to poor work practices or lack of suitable protective equipment;
- CCTV footage of your accident, when available;
- Statements from your co-workers about your working conditions or how your accident occurred;
- Statements from relatives and friends about how your back injury affected you;
- A copy of an accident report you should file with your employer to prove when and where your back injury was sustained;
- Your notes about how the back injury at work impacted your ability to work, pursue a hobby or attend social events;
- Occupational health reports, if your employer asked an occupational health consultant to review your working conditions;
- Proof of lost wages and any other financial expenses you incurred.
Once you have all the relevant evidence, your solicitor can file your back injury claim and start legal proceedings. If your employer accepts liability for your injury, your solicitor will negotiate a suitable compensation award with their insurance provider.
What responsibilities does my employer have to prevent back injuries?
A back injury at work could be due to a traumatic accident such as a slip, trip or fall or may develop gradually due to repetitive straining, overuse or maintaining a poor posture. Your employer must take all reasonable measures to protect your health and safety and prevent workplace injuries.
Their duties are dictated by several pieces of legislation, including:
- The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
- The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- The Work at Height Regulations 2005
- The Manual Handling Regulations 1992
- The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
- The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
These laws state that employers could be held liable if you hurt your back at work as a result of their failure to:
- Carry out regular risk assessments to identify hazards in the workplace
- Avoid risks when possible and minimise risks which cannot be avoided
- Provide adequate health and safety training and supervision
- Ensure that all equipment and machinery are in good working order and safe for use
- Adapt the work to the individual and take into account each employee’s age, experience and psychical condition
- Provide suitable and free-of-charge personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary
- Ensure good housekeeping and a safe working environment
- Provide adequate protection against falling objects
To prevent back injuries arising from manual handling, employers should:
- Review the working practices and eliminate all manual handling that is not absolutely necessary
- Redesign work tasks to avoid moving loads and consider whether any operation could be automated or mechanised
- Consider all risks arising from the task, load, working environment and individual capacity and how they could harm employees
- When practical to do so, provide details of the weight and nature of each load
- Repack heavy loads into smaller packages
- Redesign the workspace to reduce bending, twisting, carrying distances and the need to lift loads from floor level or above shoulder height
- Provide adequate breaks and consider the individual requirements of workers who may be especially at risk
If you hurt your back at work because your employer breached any of their duties, you might be entitled to compensation. Back injury at work claims cover your pain and suffering as well as any financial losses and expenses you incurred due to your accident.
Can I still claim if I had a pre-existing back injury?
If you were injured in an accident that worsened a pre-existing back condition, you would likely still be eligible to make a work injury claim. Although a pre-existing condition leaves you more prone to injury, you can still claim compensation if your accident was due to another party’s negligence.
Although many insurance companies try to deny a claim where there is a pre-existing back injury, if your condition exacerbates, the negligent party needs to be held responsible. The law is fortunately on your side, and your solicitor will be able to help you secure the compensation you deserve.
Nonetheless, if you were already injured before the accident, proving that this made your existing injuries worse can be complicated. You may try to show that your pre-existing injury was of a certain type and intensity and that now it is different in nature and severity. Your solicitor will need medical records showing the extent of your condition and the treatments you received before and after the accident.
You may also need to provide a statement from your doctor indicating that your pre-existing injury was aggravated by your accident and you would not be in the present condition otherwise. Without the doctor’s statement supporting the claim, it can be difficult to win compensation.
Getting a medical check-up as soon as possible after the accident is crucial to assess its impact on your existing condition and build a strong back injury at work claim. It could also be tempting to not disclose your pre-existing condition, but this could jeopardise your claim.
If the defendant’s solicitors find any discrepancy in your medical records, this can severely affect your chance of making a successful back injury at work claim.
How much compensation could I receive for a back injury at work claim?
There is no set amount of compensation awarded for back injuries suffered at work. This will depend on the severity of your injury, the circumstances of the accident and how it affected your daily life. Your solicitor will consider all you have been through to negotiate a fair settlement on your behalf.
If you hurt your back at work, you might be entitled to recover two types of damages:
Special damages cover any financial losses and expenses related to the back injury, including:
- Short-term medical expenses such as consultation fees, diagnostic tests and prescriptions
- Long-term medical expenses like physiotherapy and counselling
- Lost wages during recovery
- Loss of earning capacity if you are unable to return to work for a while
- Travel and accommodation expenses
- Home or vehicle adaptations to accommodate a disability
- Costs of care and assistance
- Any other reasonable financial losses or expenses incurred due to your back injury at work
General damages are awarded for the physical injury and how this affected your day-to-day life. This takes into account the following:
- Physical pain and disability
- Mental anguish
- Emotional and psychological trauma
- Reduced quality of life
- Loss of amenities and ability to engage in social events
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of a unique career
General damages do not have a fixed monetary value attached to them and are not so easily quantifiable. To calculate suitable compensation for personal losses in back injury at work claims, solicitors refer to the guidelines published by the Judicial College. According to them, you could receive the following:
- Up to £1,960 for minor back injuries that need a short recovery period
- £1,960 to £6,300 for moderate injuries that do not need surgery and fully heal within two years
- £6,290 to £9,970 for injuries with complete recovery within five years without surgery, such as sprains, strains or prolapsed disks
- £9,970 to £22,130 for injuries to the back ligaments or muscles that require surgery
- £22,130 to £30,910 for a more severe back injury at work that requires surgery and leads to some degree of disability
- £30,910 to £55,590 for lesions of fractures that result in chronic pain and reduced mobility
- £59,120 to £70,490 for severe injuries such as nerve root damage, causing loss of sensation and mobility or reduced bowel and bladder function
- £85,4700 to £151,070 for the most severe back injuries that involve spinal cord damage and lead to extreme pain, disability and some degree of paralysis
What is the time limit to make a claim for a back injury at work?
According to the Limitation Act 1980, you can make a personal injury claim within three years after an accident that caused you to suffer a back injury at work. The last date to start legal proceedings is known as the claim limitation date, after which your case becomes statute-barred, and the court will no longer accept it, even if it has merit.
Some back injuries are not due to a single traumatic event and may develop over time due to repetitive strain and overuse. In this case, the three-year time limit to claim starts on the date of knowledge of your injury, which is the date you knew or should have known that:
- Your back injury is significant enough to take legal action
- This was partially or entirely due to another party’s negligence
Based on the circumstances of your case, a judge will determine the date by which you should have reasonably taken legal action, which will be influenced by the timeline and severity of your symptoms.
Other time limits may apply for some back injury at work claims. For example:
- If you were under 18 at the time of injury, your claim can be made at any point before your 21st birthday. A parent or other person acting as a litigation friend could claim compensation on your behalf while you are under 18. Alternatively, you have three years from your 18th birthday to make a claim yourself.
- If the victim lacks the mental capacity to conduct legal proceedings, there is no time limit to claim for a back injury at work. This could be due to:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome
- A mental health disorder such as schizophrenia
- A neurodegenerative condition such as dementia
- A traumatic brain injury or stroke
- If the victim regains mental capacity, they will have three years from that point to start their personal injury claim.
Regardless of how you have suffered back pain at work, you should always seek legal advice as soon as possible. That should allow your solicitor plenty of time to collect supporting evidence to file your back injury at work claim and ensure you build a strong case.