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.

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:

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?

In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a Safety Pays calculator which you can use to estimate both the direct (insured) and indirect (uninsured) costs of various types of injury, and the amount of additional sales required to pay for these costs. For example, a single insured case of carpal tunnel system is estimated in 2021 to cost an employer $30,930 in insured costs and $34,023 in uninsured costs. Figures for other strain injuries are similar.

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)).

Poor ergonomics can cost your company a lot of money: investing in workplace (and working from home) ergonomics makes good economic sense.

Action Plan

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:

  1. Your employees are adequately briefed about the risk of RSI so that they can identify potential ergonomic problems, recognize symptoms, and seek treatment before major injury occurs.
  2. Ensure that regular screen breaks are taken (see below).
  3. 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 formal breaks. A break reminder product such as Albion StopNow!, can help staff 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.).

Act Now!

Ignoring employee health and safety costs money and in some jurisdictions 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.