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Keywords:

  • construction workers;
  • surveillance;
  • muscle strain

Abstract

Background

Soft tissue musculoskeletal injuries make up a high proportion of all work-related injuries in construction. Data from Workers' Compensation claims indicate that strains and sprains are the leading compensable injury for construction workers. This study describes the consequences of soft tissue musculoskeletal injuries for construction workers, and assesses the persistence of symptoms after an injury and the impact of that injury on return to work.

Methods

Through an Emergency Department surveillance system [Hunting et al., 1994a], we recorded 176 construction worker visits, from 5/01/93 through 2/28/95, for strains, sprains, joint injury or pain, tendinitis, dislocations, hernias, or other musculoskeletal injuries excluding fractures. Telephone interviews were conducted several months after workers had visited the emergency room for a musculoskeletal injury.

Results

Seventy individuals were interviewed about the long-term impacts of 72 incidents that had resulted in work-related musculoskeletal injuries. For 46 (62%) of the 74 diagnoses, problems continued beyond two months. The likelihood of problems continuing more than two months varied considerably by body location of injury. Hispanic workers and older workers were more likely to have continuing symptoms. Eleven of the 45 construction workers with symptoms persisting longer than two months were not employed at the time of the interview. Only 11 of the 45 workers with ongoing symptoms told us that modifications had been made to their jobs to accommodate their symptoms. About one-quarter of these 45 subjects reported substantial effects on home or work life.

Conclusions

Acute musculoskeletal injuries in construction workers frequently result in chronic symptoms, and those with chronic symptoms report substantial effects of the injury on their quality of life. Job accommodations were made in a minority of these injuries. These findings point to the need for heightened efforts for injury prevention in this industry. Am. J. Ind. Med. 36:532–540, 1999. © 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.