Repetitive motion worker's compensation - RSI

Repetitive motion injuries are among the top causes of workers’ compensation claims in Australia.

If you suffer a repetitive motion injury at work, you may be entitled to compensation.

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What is a repetitive motion injury?

Repetitive motion injuries, also known as repetitive strain injuries (RSI) or occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), refer to injuries caused over time, by small repetitive movements performed on a frequent basis. The repeated action that gives rise to the injury need not be difficult or physically demanding itself. However, an injury can be caused when this action is repeated many times a day, for weeks, months and years as the cumulative effect takes its toll on the body parts involved.

It is thought that repetitive motion injuries are caused by small micro tears that develop in the muscle and tendon tissue. Normally the body would repair such damage however since the tissue is constantly active and never rested for long enough to repair, further damage is caused, resulting in scar tissue, further inflammation and pain.

Common injuries sustained from repetitive motions

The most commonly suffered repetitive motion injuries include:

  • Capel Tunnel Syndrome - a nerve in the wrist becomes compressed resulting in a painful progressive condition characterised by numbness, tingling and pain.
  • Bursitis - inflammation or irritation of the bursa (a fluid filled sac which lubricates and cushions joints) commonly developed in the shoulder, hip, knee, ankle and elbow.
  • Tendonitis - inflammation of the tendons (white fibrous tissue that connects muscle to bone) commonly in the shoulder, biceps, heel, knee, thumb, wrist (barista wrist) and elbow (i.e. Tennis elbow).

Common causes of repetitive motion injuries

  • repetitive activity
  • trauma
  • mineral deposits (gout)
  • friction
  • systemic disease (rheumatoid arthritis, gout)

Symptoms of repetitive motion injuries

Symptoms of a repetitive motion injury may include:

  • pain, aching or burning
  • fatigue, lack of strength or clumsiness
  • tremors, numbness
  • swelling, redness and warmth at the site of the injury
  • difficulty using the affected area in normal activities
  • chronically cold hands
  • decreased range of motion
  • crunching sound in the joint

Jobs at high risk of repetitive motion injuries

Repetitive motion injuries may occur in a variety of workplaces. Particularly at risk are packing and assembly line workers, food processing workers, meat cutters, seamstresses, sanders,
, drivers, handlers, shelf stackers, checkout staff, baristas, chefs, cleaners, office workers, data entry clerks, typists, computer operators, filing clerks, postal workers, hairdressers, dancers and musicians.

Repetitive motion injury at work - can I claim compensation?

If you suffer an injury from performing repetitive tasks required by your employment, you may be able to claim compensation from your employer. Employers must provide proper and adequate means for employees to carry out their work. This includes:

  • providing safe systems of work
  • maintaining safe machinery and equipment
  • maintaining a safe workplace; and
  • providing employees with adequate facilities, training, supervision and instruction

If you are injured because your employer does not provide safe systems of work, equipment or a safe environment, you may be able to sue for personal injury compensation. This includes late onset injuries and aggravations of pre-existing injuries.

Note: Weekly WorkCover payments operate under a separate ‘no fault’ scheme, meaning that you can receive weekly payments to cover lost income even if your injury was not because of your employer’s negligence.
Jeff is an assembly line worker in a food processing factory. His job requires him to sit in the same position and pull a lever repeatedly with his right hand to stop and start the belt all day. He works 5 days a week, his duties are never varied and he gets only the minimum statutory allowance for breaks. As a result of the repetitive motion he develops tendonitis in his wrist. Jeff can claim compensation from his employer for his personal injuries. 
Rick works as a barista at a cafe and develops ‘barista wrist’. His employer allows him to take regular breaks from operating the coffee machine and has advised him to do alternative duties for 30 minutes, such as washing dishes every two hours to vary his workload. However Rick doesn’t want to wash dishes, so he continues to work at the coffee machine all day, every day. Rick is unlikely to get compensation for his injuries as they were due to his own negligence. However, he can receive Workers Compensation payments while he is off work.

See also:

Long term effects of a repetitive motion injury

Acute cases of repetitive motion injury can be successfully diagnosed and treated if they are caught early. However, some injured employees are never able to return to their former work capacity. Severe repetitive motion injuries may even eventually develop into a chronic pain disorder which affects all aspects of a person’s life. Any treatment for a repetitive motion injury will usually require rest, physical therapies, stretching, and exercises.

Repetitive Motion Injury - what can I claim for?


General damages compensate you for the pain and suffering you have experienced as well as any permanent loss of enjoyment of life as a result of your injuries. They are calculated by reference to the ISV Scale which rates the seriousness of any injury between 1 and 100 and accords a monetary value range to that rating.

For example, a moderate shoulder injury with a limitation of movement and discomfort persisting for about 2 years has a rating of 6 to 15 and a monetary range of $8,630 to $25,150 whereas a minor wrist injury is rated 0 to 5 with a monetary range of $0 to $6,950.

Medical Costs

To diagnose and treat an injury you may need to consult your general practitioner, consult a specialist, obtain x-rays or MRIs, take pain medications and wear special braces apparatus. The expenses you incur to obtain medical treatment including costs of consultations, diagnostic scans, travel costs, medication and medical equipment may be claimed as compensation.   You can also claim for medical costs you will incur in the future as a result of your injury.

Hospital and surgical costs

Some injuries require surgery to stabilise or repair injured bones or soft tissue. Surgical or hospital costs paid by you can be claimed as compensation as long as the surgery was necessary to treat your condition.

Rehabilitation costs

Rehabilitating after an injury may involve physiotherapy, chiropractic treatments, acupuncture, massage, home and vehicle modifications and ergonomic aids. Your reasonable costs of rehabilitation can be claimed back as compensation.

Loss of income and future earning capacity

If you sustain serious injuries you may need time off work for several weeks or months immediately after the incident. You can claim compensation for this lost income.

If your injury prevents you from working to the same extent as you did prior to the injury you may also be able to claim loss of future income earning capacity. This is usually estimated as a lump sum figure based on the age of the person, their usual occupation, and other skills.

Loss of Superannuation

Compensation can be claimed for superannuation that would have been paid on lost income.

Care and Assistance

Serious injuries may prevent you from being able to perform tasks such as personal care, cleaning, laundry, mowing your lawns, caring for the garden or other domestic chores. If you formerly performed these duties but are now unable to due to an injury you can claim compensation for care and assistance provided to you by friends, relatives or paid contractors.

In Queensland, there is a minimum threshold for this type of compensation.


Interest can generally be claimed on compensation for any out of pocket expenses that are incurred before your claim is resolved.

How will my compensation be determined?

In general terms, the amount of compensation is gauged by comparing what your life was like before the injury and what it is like now as a result of the injury. Someone whose injury has had a greater impact on their life will be entitled to more compensation than someone whose injury has had only minimal impact.

Check your rights with no risk or obligations.

The amount of compensation payable for your injuries will vary greatly from case to case, depending on a variety of variables such as:

  • the severity of the injury: more severe injuries will attract more compensation
  • the age of the patient: young people are likely to receive greater compensation than older people for a similar injury as it will impact their lifestyle and employment for a longer period of time.
  • level of health prior to the incident: an active and healthy person may suffer more from an injury because they are unable to exercise the way they did prior to the accident and may become predisposed to mood disorders and other health conditions they may not have suffered were it not for their injury.
  • pre-incident lifestyle: injured claimants who formerly engaged in activities they can no longer participate in may experience greater a impact from their injuries.
  • occupation: greater compensation will be payable where a person’s ability to work in their former occupation is impacted severely by their injuries, for example a professional ruby player will suffer a greater loss as a result of a back injury than a person who works part-time in an office and will therefore receive greater compensation.

What time limits apply to my claim?

For most personal injury claims, a legal action must be commenced within 3 years of the date of the injury. If you miss this deadline, your claim will be statute barred and you will lose all rights to claim compensation.

However, depending on where your injury occurred and who you are suing, specific pre-court procedures may apply. Pre-court procedures have their own time limits which are much sooner. If you miss these time limits you may lose your right to claim unless you can provide good reasons for why you delayed and why you should be allowed to proceed with your claim.

Strict time limits apply - seek legal advice ASAP - In most circumstances, the time limit to start a compensation claim is 3 years from the date of incident. Some processes need to be started much sooner. Seek expert legal advice ASAP. Call us on 1800 266 801 or start a live chat.

If your injuries were sustained at work

Statutory worker’s compensation claims in Queensland must be filed within 6 months from the date of the accident or the date you become aware of your injury.  If you intend to then sue your employer for negligence (otherwise known as a common law claim) you must request an assessment of permanent impairment from the workers’ compensation insurer within 2.5 years of the injury.

If you are under 18 years of age

For minors, the obligation to serve the other party with a Notice of Claim begins when the child turns 18, however a parent or guardian may do this on behalf of the minor before they turn 18.

In the case of medical negligence claims, a parent or legal guardian of a minor must serve a Notice of Claim within 6 years of the day when the parent or guardian knew or ought to have known of the injury.

Injury at work - what to do now?

Depending on the nature of your injuries and the circumstances that caused them, compensation may or may not be available. You should always seek expert legal help to see if you are able to make a claim.

Next steps - get advice now

It’s important to get advice for your specific situation. Check if you can make a risk-free compensation claim and get free initial advice from our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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Last update on:
May 29, 2018
Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation. For expert advice call 1800 266 801 or chat via live chat to arrange free initial advice with our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.


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