Back and upper limb pain causes more people to report sick with the exception of the common cold. Add wrist pain, arm pain and elbow pain…the numbers are massive!
Leisure activities and personal technology – gaming, iPods, mobile phones with touch screens and download apps etc are also encouraging more static postures often with muscles tensed for long periods and reducing exercise and overall muscular flexibility. Investigations should therefore cover more than the work environment to include domestic and leisure activities.
How much does it cost business and the tax payer?
In the UK, Musculo-skeletal Disorders (MSDs) which we may know as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) aka Work Related Upper Limb Disorder (WRULD) conditions are on an upward trend and a recent study showed:-
5 % annual increase in incidents
The lost work time due to computer posture originated MSDs is not currently recorded but thought to be between 1 – 2 million workdays/year in the UK. Informal surveys suggest that up to a third of those using computers in the workplace could be showing early signs of RSI / WRULD (which we will now refer to simply as RSI).
The recent UK Health & Safety Executive publication “Upper limb disorders in the work place” discusses some interesting case studies. One looked at a Media Corporation who had implemented a new “package” system leading to a four-fold increase in RSI reports over previous years! The employees were presumably properly trained but the general increase in computer centred time hadn’t been recognised.
1. Upper limb disorders in the work place
Why isn’t something done about it?
RSI conditions can be difficult to diagnose and understand for those who encounter them. All too often employees and even Occupational Health departments can be unaware of how computers create particular risks and how to provide adequate protection.
The medical terminology for the myriad RSI conditions is difficult for the patient to understand and creates a reluctance to act until those responsible feel they have a clear position…this lost time costs money!
The adversarial legal system in personal injury cases gets in the way of understanding and treating the sufferer. Medical professionals are reluctant to attribute cause to the conditions that come before them.
Even home and school have become areas of RSI risk. Serious RSI conditions have been seen in children of 7 years old and teenagers unable to write answers to public examinations due to RSI conditions.
What should Employers be doing?
If an employee suffers, potentially permanent, injury that will effect their ability to work, earn, play and generally live normally there is a moral and legal duty to compensated them if it can be shown that their employer was negligent in their duty of care.
Computers in the workplace are still a difficult litigation threat for employees to wield convincingly because of the difficulties in attributing specific cause. However, in the UK, the employer must demonstrate that they have carried out Display Screen Equipment assessments and reacted positively to employee’s RSI prevention needs.
Ergonomic tools are inexpensive where they prevent an employee going off sick with RSI, compared to the costs of an employee with RSI.
For Computer Posture’s founder, when his RSI became evident in 2008 he was in some pain. Although he had had a number of previous ‘niggles’ his RSI symptoms came on suddenly. He couldn’t have used his PC or car for 3 months even if he wanted to. Highly inconvenient to his employer as his expertise was essential to the implementation of a multi-million pound business project. Intensive physiotherapy (30-40 sessions) were given and over the following 12 month period the costs to his employer were at least…
- 3 months sick away from work……………………….£14,000
- Ergonomic tools………………………………………… £ 1,000
- Additional travelling costs (air, rail and taxi)………. £ 2,500
- Physiotherapy…………………………………………….£ 1,500
- Company Occupational Health support…………… ….£ 1,000
Note: These figures don’t include cost incurred by the UK National Health Service or those by his private medical insurance for nerve conduction, a MRI scan and the consultation of an orthopaedic and spinal surgeon.
Our founder was warned off claiming compensation by a claims assessor and sadly when he later found out that this was bad advice it was then too late to act on proper advice from a specialist solicitor due to the laws of limitation.
Where to start?
Prevention is better than cure!
Once an employee’s workplace has been assessed and considered to be optimal in terms of distances and angles, attention needs to move to…
What the employee will do when they’re not conscious of being assessed?
Issues to be aware of
Although not intended as a complete list by any means…
- Computer users typically slouch unconsciously. Posture Reminder Software can keep an eye on posture and alert the user to damaging slouching.
- Standard mice and keyboards often form the largest risk with the arm being held in a twisted tight posture for extended periods. We recommend the combination of a wireless vertical ergonomic mouse and compact keyboard which can reduce the risks considerably.
- If they use a laptop, do they carry this to-and-fro and if so how? A laptop bag creates a skewing of the back and chest muscles that should be symmetrical and work together. A wheeled laptop bag transfers most of the skewing stresses to the floor.
- Does the employee have quick access to Physiotherapy? There are many case studies demonstrating the significant cost savings for organisations that provide access to physiotherapy via a telephone triage assessment service.A number of Local Government and Health Authorities have shown savings of £300,000-£400,000 per annum in reducing sick days.
A bit about us: Computer Posture
Computer Posture was founded by an IT professional who became an RSI sufferer almost completely out of the blue with no warning. Through our website, we seek to provide advice on the sorts of tools and aids that will help avoid RSI or support those with RSI conditions. We operate not for profit and work primarily through our website where we select appropriate items for you sourced from cost effective suppliers in the UK, USA and Canada.
Our recommendation is to tailor a RSI avoidance strategy to particular job demands. It is important that RSI avoidance tools are practical and that their users understand the real risks of developing RSI.