Employee RSI from an Employer's Perspective
What is RSI?
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a potentially disabling illness caused by prolonged repetitive hand movements, such as those involved in computer use.
Did You Know That?
- 5.4 million working days were lost in Britain in 2003 due to RSI, resulting in an annual loss of more than a £1 billion. More
- 10% of sick notes in London, England are written for RSI according to recent research cited in the London Evening Standard. More
- 1 out of every 10 Canadians has RSI problems, according to a survey conducted by Statistics Canada. More
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island reported a 70% reduction in lost workdays and a 89% reduction in worker's compensation costs after it improved office ergonomics. More
RSI is caused by a vicious feedback loop. Hand movements, repeated frequently, strain the muscles and tendons in the wrist and fingers. The injured muscles contract, decreasing the range of motion. The sheaths which house the tendons aren't given enough time to rest, so they run out of lubrication causing chafing. This causes abrasion, irritation, inflammation, and swelling, which in turn further limits the range of motion and increases the degree of chafing.
The symptoms of RSI can range from range from dull aches to searing pain. Injuries from RSI can turn into permanent disabilities.
Ironically RSI is likely to affect the health and safety of your most hard-working and reliable employees - employees who will shrug off aches and pains in the interests of getting the job done.
How serious is the problem?
It is estimated that 1 in 50 (half a million) workers in the UK have an RSI condition, and that 5.4 million working days were lost in sick leave due to RSI in 2002. (Source TUC / RSIA).
In 1992, RSI was causing US businesses losses of as much as $20 billion a year. (Information Week, November 9, 1992). The cost to UK industry is between £5 billion and £20 billion annually. (Source: Buckle and Devereux).
In the US, Worker's compensation claims average $29,000. As many as 60% of all job-related injuries involve RSI. (Pascarelli & Quilter, 1994).
Is There Any Legislation on RSI?
Countries in the European Community have RSI regulations to encourage RSI prevention as the result of an EC directive.
In the UK, for example, the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations (1992) apply if you have an employee who habitually uses display screen equipment as a significant part of their normal work.
Among other duties, the employer must:
- assess and reduce the risk,
- ensure screen breaks are taken
- provide free eyesight tests
- provide information and training
- meet minimum ergonomic requirements for the work environment.
In addition, employers have a statutory duty of care to their employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), and employees with RSI may qualify for protection under the Disability Discrimination Act (1995).
Most developed countries have some legislation in this area, either at the national or state level. Employers should also be concerned about the potential for lawsuits in this area. (Various sources have suggested that there were over 1000 RSI related lawsuits brought in 1994 in the United States alone, although the origin of this statistic is uncertain).
What's the bottom line?
Research suggests that for every $1 invested in ergonomics intervention strategy (e.g. RSI prevention), there is a return of $17.80 (Buckle and Devereux (1999)).
Between 1992 and 1996, the New York Times reported that it reduced workers' compensation claims by 84%, and reduced lost work time by 75%, as a result of its ergonomics program. (Source Investment Benefits of an Ergonomics Program , US Department of Health and Human Services).
Organisations which employ strategies to improve work place economics have found that musculo-skeletal disorders resulting in lost work time are 3 times less likely to occur. (Schneider 1998 cited by RSIA).
The conclusions from all these studies is that investing in RSI prevention makes good economic sense.
If you have employees who regularly use computers you should be aware of the risk of your employees developing RSI and take reasonable steps to prevent it.
You should make sure that:
- Make sure that your employees are adequately trained briefed about the risk of RSI so that they can identify potential ergonomic problems, recognize symptoms, and seek treatment before major injury occurs.
- Ensure that regular screen breaks are taken (see below).
- Ensure that the working environment meets reasonable ergonomic requirements for computer use.
Ensuring that regular screen breaks are taken can be difficult when the working environment is unsuited to regular formal breaks. A break reminder product such as Albion StopNow!, which adapts itself to an employee's workload, can help workers with irregular workloads or mixed duties take regular RSI prevention breaks at a very reasonable cost. (Small disclaimer: it's our product, which we wrote because we needed it.).
Ignoring employee health and safety costs money and can result in civil or criminal liability. A workplace RSI prevention program is cost-effective insurance on your part. Don't wait until workplace RSI becomes an issue. By then it may already be too late.
RSIA is the The Repetitive Strain Injury Association , a UK organization dedicated to raising awareness of RSI in the UK.