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Working from home caused worker’s deep vein thrombosis

A work-from-home employee has been awarded workers’ compensation for a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) injury which the NSW Workers Compensation Commission (NSWWCC) found was mainly caused by his sedentary work.

The worker claimed that he had to work longer hours than normal – between 50 to 60 hours per week and on one day for 16 hours – because of his slow internet connection.

He then developed a severe pain in his calf, after which he was diagnosed with DVT.

His doctor concluded the DVT injury, which subsequently embolised to his lung, followed “a long period of immobility working at his desk from home”.

However, when the worker lodged a workers’ compensation claim his employer rejected it.

In the arbitration hearing, the employer submitted that the worker’s work log records showed he had only worked up to 7.5 hours per day and that the doctor’s opinion was diminished as his conclusion was based on the worker’s incorrect work history.

When the employer referred the worker to a second doctor, this doctor contended that his work was not the main cause of his DVT, but rather a non-work-related knee injury which resulted in him being less physically active and gaining weight. This led to a chemical imbalance (elevated homocysteine and low folate levels) which were the main contributing factor to the worker’s condition, he argued.

The employer further argued that the worker had a previous DVT episode about 20 years earlier, after he was injured playing rugby. It submitted that “the DVT should be taken to be a disease, or the aggravation, acceleration, exacerbation or deterioration of a disease, and not a single incident of injury”.

But NSWWCC Arbitrator Ross Bell found otherwise.

“[I]t seems to me that the physiological event for [the worker] was a personal injury,” Arbitrator Bell said.

“The thrombosis developed over a relatively short period overnight, and comprised a ‘sudden and ascertainable or dramatic physiological change or disturbance of the normal physiological state’ resulting in the pain symptoms.

“There was no ‘disease’ of DVT stretching from the event 20 years ago to the present or commencing at some point prior to the June 2016 DVT. The earlier event also required the additional factor of an immobilised leg for the DVT to occur.

“[The worker] had an issue 20 years beforehand, but no DVT episodes after that up to 2016. There was a congenital factor in the abnormal chemical levels, but this was insufficient in itself to cause the DVT.

“The decrease in his general activity levels due to the left knee problems from the end of 2015 is considered by [the employer’s doctor] as a contributing factor, but this hindrance was not immobilising to the extent of the ‘stasis’ of sitting in front of the computer for the duration of each working day.

“For an injury to arise out of the employment requires ‘a certain degree of causal connection between the accident and the employment’. The employment must to some material extent contribute to the injury. I am satisfied that [the worker’s] immobility sitting at the work computer for the hours shown in the employer’s log satisfy this test.”

In finding that the worker’s DVT injury arose out his employment, Arbitrator Bell awarded him compensation for his medical expenses.

The worker also made a further claim for lump sum compensation for a primary psychological injury he said he sustained after he became “terrified” when he got pains in his chest. Arbitrator Bell rejected this, finding that the worker only suffered a secondary psychological injury.

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