Combatting Repetitive Strain Injuries in the Workplace
Can We Prevent Repetitive Strain Injuries?
Hazards are best eliminated at the source; this is a fundamental principle
of occupational health and safety. In the case of Repetitive Strain Injuries
(RSI'S), the prime source of hazard is the continuous repetitive and
static use of the flexor muscles of the hands in a uni-directional motion,
which is used to perform most types of work. Other components of work
such as the applied force, fixed body positions, and the pace of work
requiring the same movements over and over again, are also contributing
factors to RSI. Therefore the main effort to protect workers from RSI'S
should focus on limiting the repetitive and static patterns of work that
require the overuse of the flexor muscles of the hand/forearm.
This can be achieved through the implementation of good ergonomic products
to help reduce stress and strain, and by re-designing job stations which
may include job rotation (job cross-training), job enlargement and enrichment
or teamwork. Where elimination of the repetitive patterns of work is
not practical, prevention strategies involving workplace layout, tool
and equipment design, and work practices should be considered.
Job Rotation (Job Cross-Training)
Job rotation / Cross-Training is one possible approach. It requires workers
to move between different tasks, at fixed or irregular periods of time.
But it must be a rotation where workers do something completely different.
Different tasks must engage different muscle groups in order to allow
recovery for those already being strained. However, job rotation alone
will not be effective in reducing RSI'S if not combined with properly
designed workstations. And it will not be as effective as long as the
high pace of work activities requiring the excessive overuse of the flexor
muscles to perform repetitive and or static flexion persists.
Enlargement and Enrichment
is job enlargement. This approach increases the variety
of tasks built into the job. It breaks the monotony
of the job and avoids overloading the hands/wrists.
Teamwork can provide greater variety and more evenly distributed muscular
work. The whole team is involved in the planning and allocation of the
work. Each team member carries out a set of operations to complete the
whole product, allowing the worker to alternate between tasks, hence, reducing
the stress to the hands/wrists and the risk of RSI.
The guiding principle in workplace design is to fit the workplace to the
worker. Evaluation of the workplace can identify the sources contributing
to the onset of RSI'S.
Proper design of the workstation decreases the effort required of the worker
to maintain a working position. Ideally, the workstation should be fully
adjustable, providing a worker with the options to work in standing, sitting
or sitting-standing positions, as well as fitting the worker's body size
Tools and Equipment Design
Proper design of tools and equipment significantly decreases the force
necessary to complete the task. Good ergonomic tools can also save a lot
of muscle strain. These tools may not eliminate the onset of RSI'S, but
may increase the time in which it takes to get an RSI.
A properly designed workstation and proper tools, allows the worker to
avoid unnecessary motion of the neck, shoulders and upper extremities.
However, the actual performance of the tasks utilizing the proper equipment
and body positions depends on the individuals.
Training should be provided for workers who are involved in jobs that include
tasks that involve repetitive and/or static flexion of the hands/wrists.
Workers need to know how to adjust workstations to fit the tasks and their
individual needs. Training should also emphasize the importance of rest
periods and teach how to take advantage of short periods of time between
tasks to relax the muscles, perform specific exercise stretches related
to their job tasks, and how to consciously control muscle tension throughout
the whole work shift.
Workplace Injury Prevention Programs
Injury prevention programs emphasizing exercise and stretch breaks should
be implemented to further reduce the onset of job-related RSI'S such as
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Implementing such programs not only increases productivity
of individuals but also reduces the costs associated with treating individuals
suffering from RSI"S such as:
- Missed Work Days Physician Visits Rehabilitation
Pre / Post Surgery Job Retraining Light Duty
- Increased Insurance Premiums
From the short list above, it is easy to see that the costs associated
with RSI'S is far more expensive to deal with after their onset as compared
to implementing prevention programs which will completely reduce the number
of RSI'S in the workplace altogether.
AUTHOR: Mr. Anliker is a Therapist and Inventor of Therapeutic
Exercise Products that are utilized by Corporations,
Consumers and Medical Facilities around the world
for the prevention and rehabilitation of repetitive