Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is the No. 1 occupational health problem in the U.S., resulting in more than $20 billion a year in Workers Compensation costs (according to OSHA), plus another $100 billion in lost productivity, employee turnover, and other expenses (Agency for Health Care Policy and Research).
RSIs develop as a result of repeated exposure to ergonomic risk factors, one of which is the risk associated with the improper set-up of an employee’s workstation. Thousands of people are diagnosed each year with some kind of impairment directly related to poorly designed workstations.
RSIs result from an accumulation of tension and strain in the body. Ergonomics is the practice of adapting a job or the work environment to the person so that they can work without harmful strain or injury. Effective ergonomics reduces discomfort and injuries, while increasing job satisfaction and productivity (University of Washington, Environmental Health & Safety). When bodies are able to perform work that is within their appropriate range-of-motion, less strain is absorbed by the muscular-skeletal system.
Employees operating in an ergonomically correct workstation environment can reduce the possibility of acquiring an RSI. Every component of the workstation – seating, keyboard, monitor, mouse; the reach and range and positioning of all a worker’s “tools of the trade;” how employees sit (or stand) or position themselves while working – is critical to managing the amount of strain imposed on the body on a daily basis (and cumulatively, day after day). Employers can use ergonomic assessment to ensure that employees are working at the proper height, angle, and location in terms of seating, keyboards, monitors, and other office equipment.
Ergonomic assessment should be “Job One” whenever a new employee comes on board, a critical piece of the “how” they will perform essential tasks and whether, over time, they acquire an RSI.
Through solving ergonomic problems, an employer can accomplish the primary goal of RSI prevention, while enhancing the productivity and job satisfaction of individual employees. Effective ergonomic outcomes result from identifying the ergonomic risk factors associated with employees and their specific task-set – and then systematically eliminating or reducing their exposure to the identified risk factors.
There are three approaches to this process:
- Engineering controls: Physical changes to a job that eliminate or materially reduce the presence of RSI hazards, such as changing, modifying, or redesigning workstations, tools, facilities, equipment, materials, and processes, and work practice controls (changes in the way a job is performed). This includes using good body mechanics and lifting techniques, rotating or varying tasks throughout the day to minimize muscle fatigue, and using tools properly.
- Administrative controls: Management-controlled work practices and policies designed to reduce exposures to RSI hazards by changing the way work is assigned or scheduled (such as employee rotation, job enlargement, and employer-authorized changes in the pace of work).
- Ergonomic assessment: Employing such tools as The NIOSH Guide to Manual Lifting, postural assessments, risk factor checklists, task frequency and duration assessments, force/weight measurements, dimension measurements, anthropometry data comparisons, energy demand assessment, body mechanics assessment, and assessment of environmental factors. An ergonomic assessment should include an interview of the employee to obtain information about their position duties, an evaluation of their workstation, and observation of them performing work tasks.
To help prevent RSIs, consider workstation ergonomic assessment and modifications as soon as an employee is hired, especially for computer users or other employees who perform repetitive work. For employees who are already working, changes in workstation set-up or purchase of ergonomic equipment can allow them to continue working and possibly avoid a lost-time, lost-productivity injury. Ergonomic assessments that lead to effective workstation and task-process outcomes can improve workstation “fit,” while increasing employee satisfaction and productivity.
Related Job Accommodation Network (JAN) publications:
Accommodation Ideas for Cumulative Trauma Injuries
Accessible Workstations for Office Settings
For additional resources on ergonomics, visit the JAN Resource Page.
Article courtesy of Linda Yost, M.S., CRC, (JAN Consultant – Motor/Sensory Team)