Cumulative trauma injuries accumulate over time and often result in severe injuries for railroad workers. Railroad workers operate in hostile environments where life-changing accidents are common, but cumulative stress injuries caused by repetitive motion, exposure to toxins, vibrations, loud noises, or sustained positions can be just as debilitating.
Cumulative Trauma Explained
Cumulative trauma refers to a series of small injuries or prolonged exposure to a hazardous environment or physically demanding work that can accumulate into life-altering injuries. Cumulative trauma usually coalesces in the muscles, bones, joints, nerves, tendons, spinal cord, and other vulnerable areas. Cumulative stress injuries can result in long-term pain or disability, increased medical costs, and lost wages if the worker is unable to perform his duties due to the injuries.
Sources of Cumulative Injuries
Cumulative injuries result from exposure to regular duties on railroads. For example, railroad workers who are exposed to loud noises on a persistent and prolonged basis can suffer injuries to their hearing and other vulnerable body parts over time. Workers who engage in repetitive activities also suffer from serious injuries. Specifically, carmen trackmen, conductors, and brakemen are vulnerable in their joints and shoulders because the repetitive motion wears out their joints and tendons.
Continuous exposure to toxins, even those that are “safe” or in “low-doses” can damage the brain and cause other injuries. Moreover, railroad employees who regularly stand or sit on vibrating trains and platforms also incur significant wear and tear on their bodies. Workers who regularly perform awkward- or heavy-lifting also suffer damage to their hips, knees, and back – even if they lift properly. Exposure to loud noises, heavy lifting, and repetitive motions can cause subtle but detectable injuries which, over time, can result in disabilities which could require the worker to take an extended leave from work to recover.
Exposure to various incidents can result in a broad range of injuries, including but not limited to:
- Carpal tunnel in the joints (particularly wrists);
- Tendon and joint problems (such as tendonitis, bursitis, and arthritis);
- Lung problems; and
- Hand-arm vibration syndrome which is significant nerve damage in the hands and arms due to vibration exposure.