Hernias are five times more common among men than women, and around 95% of these injuries are medically defined as ‘inguinal’ hernias. An inguinal hernia involves a rupture in the abdominal wall, through which fat tissues or portions of intestine protrude. Though an inguinal hernia may not be painful initially, there will be a noticeable bump in the groin region, and the hernia is likely to ache during physical activities such as lifting and bending. Inguinal hernias are defined as either ‘indirect’, when the cause is a congenital defect in the abdominal wall, or ‘direct’, when physical activity has degraded the abdominal muscles, causing the rupture. It is estimated that around 70,000 hernia repair operations are carried out in the UK every year, the vast majority successfully. An inguinal hernia will however often result in a lengthy period of time off work, and related loss of earnings. An injured person may be unable to resume heavy lifting tasks at work, and may be forced to accept a less well-paid role, or even change professions.
Doctors will always recommend surgery when an inguinal hernia is diagnosed, due to potential medical complications if the injury is left untreated. These include disruption to the blood supply, potentially causing damage or death (necrosis) to the body’s soft tissues, and obstruction of the bowel. A hernia operation requires the surgeon to push the protruding tissues or intestine back through the abdominal wall, and then secure the rupture by inserting a wire or plastic gauze. In this way a hernia is defined as being ‘reducible’. Inguinal hernias are particularly common due to the natural weakness of the abdominal region, and the amount of pressure placed on muscles and tendons that make up to abdominal wall during everyday activities. While most people will make a full recovery within a few weeks following hernia surgery, the operation itself may cause further weakness in the abdominal region, and unfortunately there is a high rate of recurrence among hernia patients.
Hernia injuries at work are normally the result of a sudden excessive strain placed on the groin region, or repetitive strain, causing degeneration of the abdominal muscles and tendons over time. Hernias regularly affect the most active segment of the population, and this is reflected in industries with high incidence rates of hernias among workers. The lifting and transporting of heavy and awkward weights is probably the most common cause of hernias at work. Any other form of physical over-exertion may also cause a hernia, including pulling, pushing and supporting heavy loads. Hernias may develop from repetitive strain involved in actions including bending, reaching and twisting. The key here again is how much sustained pressure is placed on the abdominal wall. Severe or persistent coughing and sneezing may also caused hernias, conditions which can result from fumes or other airborne irritants in the workplace. Employers must ensure that their premises are adequately ventilated in this context.
Detailed regulations covering the lifting and transporting of loads at work are aimed at preventing working conditions likely to cause hernias among employees. Wherever possible such tasks should be mechanised, and where human involvement is unavoidable, tasks should be comprehensively risk assessed and properly supervised. Staff involved in handling heavy loads must also be provided with training in safe lifting techniques. Hernia compensation may reach £5,850 if an injured person had no congenital defect and the risk of recurrence is high. Where there may have been a pre-existing weakness, and a full recovery is made, compensation for a hernia caused by working conditions will range between 2,150GBP and 4,750GBP. Further compensation may also be awarded for loss of earnings and the cost of medical treatment.