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Every year, around 2,500 people are involved in an accident at work which results in a spinal cord injury. Currently, it is estimated that 50,000 people in the UK live with an injury to their spinal cord, resulting in a monumental change to their lifestyle; not to mention the ongoing issues that are associated with such injuries. 
 
With many spinal injuries occurring in the workplace – a huge 35% of work-related ill health is down to back pain and related conditions, in 2019 – it’s not unusual for people suffering to make compensation claims. But what are the long-term effects of spinal cord injuries? In what circumstances can you claim compensation? 
 
Common spinal cord injuries in the workplace 
 
Your spinal cord is the conduit of communication for your body, i.e. it’s through the spinal cord that messages are sent to and from your brain to every part of your body. When your spinal cord is damaged, either through injury or illness, it interrupts that communication conduit, which impacts parts of your body, such as loss of movement and even speech. 
 
It is, without doubt, life changing and in extreme circumstances, can lead to spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair. Pain, fatigue, loss of movement in limbs, bowel and bladder issues; even sexual function is affected. It isn’t just the injured person that suffers; family and friends also feel the effects indirectly. 
 
Spinal cord injuries are generally caused by a trauma or force to the back, such as a fall or twisting of the spine. However, injuries to the vertebrae, muscles and tissues surrounding the spinal cord can also cause severe back injuries. The most common types of accidents at work that are likely to result in a severe back or spinal cord injury include: 
 
● Falling from a height, i.e. off scaffolding or a ladder. 
● Falling awkwardly, i.e. when trying to get something out of reach or through a daily task. 
● Falling from a vehicle that is moving, i.e. a tractor or a forklift. 
● A crash or collision involving a motor vehicle 
● A heavy object falling on a person and hitting their back, head or neck 
● Another form of injury to a person’s head, face, neck or back 
● Lifting heavy or bulky loads, or carrying awkwardly 
 
An employer’s responsibility 
 
It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that health and safety standards at work are maintained in order to protect workers from risk of back or spinal cord injuries. For example, there should be specific procedures on how to manage manual handling and only those trained to drive a forklift do so. The Government’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) advise that employers must: 
 
● Work activities that could cause back pain should be avoided, where reasonably possible. If it can’t be avoided, the work activity should be assessed and measures taken to reduce the risk. 
● Identified control measures should be implemented, monitored and reviewed to ensure they are working 
● Any health and safety concerns should be discussed with workers and resolved 
 
Long-term effects of spinal cord injuries 
 
However, accidents do happen despite health and safety procedures in place and severe spinal cord injuries have a long-term effect on the person injured. It can result in that person being unable to work for a period of time while they recover or, indeed, a permanent disability. There are four main forms of spinal injury that carry different levels of ability: 
 
● Cervical injuries to the spinal cord – the most serious of spine injuries involving damage to the central nervous system that runs through the neck vertebrae. Those suffering from this level of spinal cord injury will usually have a level of paralysis in their body, arms or legs, i.e. be a tetraplegia or quadriplegia. 
● Thoracic injuries to the spinal cord – this is damage to the upper back spinal cord and usually leads to the person being paraplegic, i.e. losing the use of their legs and lower body. 
● Lumbar injuries to the spinal cord – a lower back injury to the spinal cord that results in partial or full loss of the use of the legs, hips, bladder and bowel. Whilst many suffering from this injury are confined to a wheelchair, some are able to walk, albeit assisted. 
● Sacral injuries to the spinal cord – this is where the lowest level of the spinal cord is damaged and affects the hips, thighs and groin area as well as the potentially the legs, bladder and bowel. 
 
Whether it is a minor back injury or severe spinal cord injury that happened at work, the injured person is going to need assistance, if not surgery and ongoing physical therapy to help them recover, or at least some form of movement. 
 
Claiming compensation for spinal cord injuries at work 
 
The costs associated with long-term care for spinal cord injuries can be enormous and many victims will seek financial compensation to help them cover these immediate and future expenses. 
 
Financial compensation can make a significant difference to the life of someone suffering from a spinal cord injury. It will cover aspects such as full-time or part-time professional care, medical costs, rehabilitation treatment, any necessary equipment, as well as making adjustments to their homes so they can move around. It will also compensate for not being able to work and lead the life the person was experiencing before their accident. 
 
Employers are legally responsible for the health and safety of their workers at work and therefore, if they have been negligent in providing the necessary procedures and processes to meet their responsibilities, they can be held to account in a compensation claim. However, if the accident occurred through not following those procedures and processes, or the person was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or they were violating company policies, they may not be eligible for compensation. 
 
At DSM Legal, we handle a wide variety of accident and serious injury claims at work, including spinal cord injuries, slips, trips and falls. We work on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, ensuring the entire process of a compensation claim is risk-free, and will not cost you anything if you lose. If you’ve had an accident at work which has been life-changing and left you unable to work, contact us today to see how we can help with your compensation claim. 
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