According to the HSE, the Construction sector accounts for around 6% of the UK workforce, around 69,000 of whom are suffering due to work each year.
In this article, Melanie Burden, expert lawyer from Simpson Millar Solicitors, provides guidance on the condition, signs to look out for, how accidents leading to this type of syndrome can occur in the workplace and tips for prevention.
Due to the very nature of the work involved, there is often a high risk of accidents caused by, amongst others, falls from scaffolding, manual handing, handling dangerous equipment and machinery, crane accidents or being hit by falling objects.
The HSE has reported that annually, around 69,000 construction workers in Great Britain were suffering from an illness they believe was caused or made worse by their work.
In this respect, it is important that anyone in the building trade be aware of a condition known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) as it is not very well publicised and can be easily missed, particularly by individual tradesmen or smaller businesses. The triggers for developing the condition in this line of work are unfortunately rather high.
What is CRPS?
CRPS is an extremely painful condition where sufferers experience persistent, severe debilitating pain which can have an enormous impact on their personal lives as well as work performance. Most cases of CRPS are triggered by an injury and the resulting pain is much more severe and long-lasting than normal.
Anyone injuring their hand/fingers are particularly vulnerable to this condition as there are so many bones, tendons and nerves in the hand and if any of the nerves are directly or indirectly damaged as a result of the accident, or an injured person has to have surgery to repair the injury, they can go on to develop this terrible condition.
CRPS in the hand/finger can be triggered generally by the following mechanisms of injury where the nerves might be affected:
- from a musculoskeletal injury such as a crush injury or injury to the nerve
- the symptoms can come on from an injury as minor as a cut to the finger
- it can also come on after surgery (commonly in surgeries that involve the repair of fractures/damaged nerves to hands/arms/feet)
- it can also come on after immobilisation – such as immobilisation in a cast/splint
If anyone has been unfortunate enough to suffer an injury, some of the main symptoms of CRPS include:
- A cold pain
- Pain from the lightest of touches
- Continued intense pain
- Abnormal swelling
- Skin colour changes
- Excessive sweating
- Abnormal nail growth
- Abnormal skin temperature
- Joint tenderness/stiffness
- Restricted/painful movement
- Cracked nails
- Tremors and spasms
If any of these unusual symptoms or pain is burning and intense and does not seem to be improving; we strongly recommend a referral to the local pain clinic for a diagnosis. The sooner a diagnosis is reached, the sooner the treatment can commence and the better the outcome.
Contrary to some old fashioned theories, which have attributed CRPS as a psychological disorder, research has demonstrated that CRPS is a physical disorder. It is well recognised, however, that many people suffering from Chronic Pain conditions, particularly CRPS can experience psychological symptoms and recognised psychiatric disorders.
This can be because living with a long term pain condition can be very distressing and can cause depression and anxiety. Accessing psychological treatment and support can be extremely beneficial to people caught in a cycle of chronic pain.
How can any risk be avoided?
Prevention is the best policy. While businesses should ensure the rigorous use and enforcement of Health and Safety Construction Regulations and that all risk assessments are regularly reviewed and updated, workers generally should be particularly mindful and remain vigilant of potential causes.
Amongst others, these can include the use of power tools, the use of sharp objects and anything that could give rise for a crush injury. Where there are protective guards and stop controls – ensure the guard is in place and correctly fitted and that the stop controls are easily accessible; in the workspace – ensure that the power tool to be used is at a safe level, safe height and within sufficient space to enable safe operation.
For those working in the construction business, regular tool box talks could be beneficial as these are a very good way of reinforcing the risk assessments/safety measures by keeping everyone watchful of anything that may give way to danger and also the risk of CRPS.