Repetitive strain injuries (RSI) can affect a wide range of workers, from computer operators to assembly line workers, to butchers. Performing the same task over and over again can lead to painful RSIs affecting the tendons, tendon sheaths, muscles, nerves, joints and other soft tissues in the neck, shoulders, forearms, hands, wrists, elbows and lower limbs.
When workers suffer these injuries, their employers must deal with reduced productivity, higher compensation costs and increased healthcare costs.
Here are some facts on RSIs from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:
Pain is the most common symptom of an RSI. Workers may experience joint stiffness, muscle tightness, redness and swelling of the affected area, a “pins and needles” sensation, numbness, skin color changes and decreased sweating of the hands. Without rest, recovery and treatment, symptoms may worsen to the point where pain is constant and work becomes impossible.
Causes of RSIs include repetitive gripping, holding, bending, twisting, clenching and reaching, whether using a computer mouse, cutting meat or performing tasks on a production line. Other work factors that may bring about an RSI are awkward postures, fixed body positions, excessive forces applied to the hands or wrists, and a fast work pace with insufficient breaks or recovery time. Psychological factors, such as stress, may also contribute to RSIs.
The best way of preventing RSIs in your workplace is to eliminate repetitive physical tasks through job design, such as by mechanizing tasks previously performed by workers. Rotating workers through a variety of tasks during a shift can also help reduce the incidence of RSIs, because varied tasks require the use of different muscle groups.
A well-designed workstation adjusted to a worker’s size and body shape can reduce RSIs. Workstations should be fully adjustable to allow workers to work in standing, sitting or sitting/standing positions.
Workers should be provided with appropriate, carefully-maintained tools and equipment that can be used with less force, thereby preventing muscle strain. Vices and clamps for woodworking and machining can also reduce muscular effort and the need for awkward working positions.
Workers need to be trained in the causes of RSIs, how to prevent them and how to recognize early signs and symptoms. They also need training on how to adjust workstations to best fit their tasks and individual needs.
Employees should be encouraged to take short, frequent rest breaks to allow their muscles to relax.
The longer someone experiences the symptoms of an RSI before the employer eliminates a problem-causing activity, the higher the risk of the worker developing a condition that will not respond positively to treatment.
Employers and employees should work together to develop RSI prevention and control measures.