Can light work duties cause carpal tunnel syndrome?

Date: March 26, 2018


Cross and Comcare (Compensation) [2018] AATA 52 (22 January 2018)

Key Points


Ms Margaret Cross was employed by the Department of Human services from 1982 until her retirement in November 2016.  In February 2016, Ms Cross noticed a change in sensation in her right hand and fingers, including electric shocks and numbness.  Around a month later, Ms Cross experienced similar symptoms in her left hand.  Ms Cross submitted a claim for workers’ compensation.

Ms Cross gave evidence at hearing that there was a sudden onset of symptoms over a two-hour period whilst undertaking her work duties on 18 February 2016.  During the previous year, Ms Cross’ work duties involved scanning documents and entering earnings codes using a computer keyboard and dictation software.  Ms Cross attributed her symptoms to a change in the work that she was required to undertake following her return to Centrelink in November 2015 after a three-month trial at Medicare, as causing or contributing to the aggravation of the carpal tunnel syndrome.

Medical evidence was presented to the Tribunal that outside factors including diabetes and weight gain, as well as her psychological condition, had contributed to the development of the ailment.

Both parties accepted that Ms Cross suffered from bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome.  The Tribunal considered that the condition should be assessed under the disease provisions in the SRC Act and the relevant threshold test for liability was whether the ailment, or aggravation of an ailment was contributed to, to a significant degree, by the employee’s employment, pursuant to section 5B(2) of the SRC Act.

The Tribunal considered that for liability to exist Ms Cross needed to show that her underlying pathology was aggravated to a significant degree.  The Tribunal found that she had not.


The Tribunal was not satisfied that Ms Cross’ employment had contributed to her condition, to a significant degree.  The Tribunal found that the simultaneous (in clinical terms) onset of symptoms in both wrists was indicative of the major cause of the applicant’s carpal tunnel syndrome being the development of underlying pathology associated with other medical conditions suffered by Ms Cross.

The Tribunal concluded that:

  1. the Applicant did not suffer an injury for the purposes of s 5A(1)(b) of the SRC Act on 18 February 2016 or any other identifiable date;
  2. the Applicant’s employment did not contribute to, to a significant degree, the Applicant’s carpel tunnel syndrome or an aggravation of the Applicant’s carpel tunnel syndrome; and
  3. the Applicant did not suffer a disease for the purposes of s 5A(1)(a) of the SRC Act.

Lessons Learnt

It is notorious that carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused due to constitutional factors and by activity such as work.  Cross demonstrates that it is not easy for a worker to meet their onus in cases where their work is light and they face other risk factors.




Naomi Adams
Direct: +61 (8) 9265 6015


Download PDF here:  Cross and Comcare

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