Repetitive work isn’t just monotonous. Repetitive movements, such as typing or handling hundreds of parts on an assembly line, can cause painful musculoskeletal injuries.
According to Statistics Canada, close to two million Canadians suffer from repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) and more than half of these injuries are caused by work related activities.
RSI Awareness Day
February 29th - the only non-repeating day of the year - marks International RSI Awareness Day, a time to give RSIs some extra attention. RSIs, also known as work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs or WMSDs), are painful disorders in the tendons, muscles, nerves and joints in the neck, upper and lower back, chest, shoulders or arms. These disorders can be caused by frequent and repetitive activities at work, or activities that require awkward postures. A pace of work that doesn't allow breaks between movements can also contribute to RSIs, as can vibration or working in heat or cold. RSIs most often result from a combination of these factors.
The word "repetitive" is key to understanding RSIs. Movements that might normally be completely harmless, such as bending or clenching the hands, gripping a piece of paper, or twisting to flick a switch, can cause injuries when performed too frequently or too fast over a period of time.
Controlling & Preventing RSI
Hazards are best eliminated at the source. Repetitive work can be eliminated through job design. Certain tasks can be mechanized. Workstations, too, must be ergonomically designed to fit the worker. When it's not possible to eliminate the repetitive nature of a job, a well-designed workstation can help, along with ergonomic tools and equipment that save a lot of muscular effort in awkward positions. It's also possible to rethink some of the worker's tasks, arranging the worksite in a way that reduces unnecessary motion of the neck, shoulders and upper limbs, for example. What works and what feels right will often depend on the individual.
Administratively, workers can rotate between two or more tasks to engage different muscle groups rather than always straining the same ones.
Because RSIs develop slowly, workers should be trained to understand what causes these injuries and how best to prevent them. Workers need to know how to adjust workstations to fit their tasks and individual needs. Besides providing ergonomics training, employers should also encourage employees to take short, frequent rest breaks to allow their muscles to relax, and to consciously control muscle tension throughout the work shift.
Although RSIs can be prevented, they can be difficult to treat when left for too long. Knowledge and the right work conditions are the best defence against these injuries. Give it some extra thought on International RSI Awareness Day, February 29th.