Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) can strike almost any worker at almost any job in any office building, plant or factory. Employers need to be aware of the early warning signs of RSIs and carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as healthy strategies to employ so workers stay on the job and productive.
FAQs about repetitive stress injuries1. Repetitive stress injuries lead to increased absenteeism, workers' compensation claims and the like. What steps can employers take to reduce the number of RSIs — and keep the current ones from getting worse?
Early detection is the best defense against RSIs (such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and thoracic outlet syndrome). Unfortunately, employees often ignore the early warning signs because the symptoms may occur several hours after work activity has stopped. Because of this delay, employees don't make the connection between their work activities and the pain they feel until it's too late. Thus, an employer's best bet may be to take measures to reduce the problems that result in RSIs. Here are several ergonomic tips you can put to use in your workplace right away.
Redesign jobs to minimize repetitive motions so workers are less likely to perform the same task over and over again.
Provide regular breaks for employees who perform an hour or two of the same motion in a fixed or awkward position. Breaks should also be given to employees who engage in frequent or forceful hand exertions or who use vibrating tools or equipment. Computer users should also take at least one five-minute break per hour.
Provide adjustable furniture that allows employees to rest their thighs parallel to the ground and their forearms at about the same height as their elbows. Chairs should be adjustable for height, and desktops should adjust to suit the height of the chair.
Train employees in proper workstation posture and how to achieve it. For example, an employee should sit all the way back in the chair so that it supports the lower back.
Position computer equipment properly for each employee. The monitor should be positioned so the top of the screen is slightly below eye level. The keyboard should be at a relaxing height for the shoulders, usually about 28 inches from the floor.
Provide computer accessories, such as copyholders, arm supports, wrist rests, back cushions, and footrests. An adjustable document holder that attaches to the monitor and holds paper at eye level is a good accessory for typists and programmers.
Purchase keyboards that can be adjusted for individual comfort. For instance, some keyboards allow adjustments for right- and left-handed users.
Reduce eyestrain with better lighting. For example, consider task lighting as opposed to overhead lighting.
Make sure that machine controls do not require excessive reaching, and whenever possible, replace levers with a two-handed control pad.
Provide mechanical aids, such as handcars and lifting devices, when possible.
Encourage employees to alternate between standing and sitting. If standing is required for prolonged periods, provide footrests and anti-fatigue mats.
Train employees in proper lifting methods. These techniques include keeping the load close to the body, keeping the natural curves in the back, and using the legs to help lift without twisting.
Reduce hand-transmitted vibration exposure as much as possible by optimizing the power and weight of the tools to minimize vibration; reducing the time the tool must be used; scheduling frequent maintenance breaks to keep tools operating with the least vibration; providing anti-vibration isolators on tools; and using vibration-damping gloves.
Promote proper phone comfort for employees who use a telephone frequently. Encourage them to keep their necks straight and the phone within easy reach, and to use headsets or and speakerphones.
Control noise levels by keeping printers and copiers away from employee work areas.
Make efforts to reduce stress levels, since stress can be a contributing factor to RSIs. Frequent absences and irritability may be warning signs that stress levels are increasing.
Listen to employee complaints about discomfort or pain. Worker complaints of neck, back, hand, and wrist pain can all be early warning signs of RSIs.
Consider using outside expertise, such as an ergonomist, to study your workplace and offer suggestions on how to improve it.
Note: You can get advice from your workers' compensation insurance carrier on ergonomically-designed office furniture and hardware that can substantially reduce the incidence of RSIs.2. What are some of the potential warning signs of RSIs and their solutions?
Problem: Hunched or elevated shoulders while holding the phone.
Solution: Allow employees who are on the phone for extended periods to use speakerphones or headsets.
Problem: Elbows splayed out, or raised or tensed shoulders.
Solution: Lower work surface, keyboard, or chair armrests.
Problem: Wrists or palms resting for long periods of time on hard work surfaces.
Solution: Get wrist rests.
Problem: Prolonged mouse use.
Solution: Have employees move the mouse closer to their body. Teach employees keystroke substitutes (for example, hitting "Ctrl+S" instead of clicking on "Save").
Problem: Rapid, sustained, prolonged keying in of data.
Solution: Allow for frequent breaks. Reduce overtime, if possible.
Problem: Twisted torso.
Solution: Rearrange work area, provide more knee space, request a swivel chair for employees.
Problem: Reflected glare on computer screen.
Solution: Purchase a glare screen. Move monitor so light does not enter from the back.
Problem: Head peering forward or squinting.
Solution: Check position of monitor. Suggest eye exam.
Problem: Head tilted back.
Solution: Remove tilt-swivel base from monitor.