Repetitive Strain Injuries: A Real Pain
RSI Awareness Day is February 29th. As the only "non-repetitive" day of the year, it's the ideal date to devote to raising awareness of repetitive strain injuries (RSI).
RSI is a general term used to describe a variety of painful injuries that affect tendons, tendon sheaths, muscles, nerves, joints, and other soft tissues. They cause persistent or recurring pain most commonly in the neck, shoulders, forearms, hands, wrists, elbows, and lower limbs.
RSI are a serious workplace health concern causing pain and suffering for many workers. These injuries place economic burdens on society in lost productivity, compensation costs, and healthcare costs. According to Stats Can, in 2000/2001, over two million Canadians had a repetitive strain injury serious enough to limit their normal activities, and 55% of these injuries were caused by work-related activities.
Causes of RSI
Gripping, holding, bending, twisting, clenching, and reaching - these ordinary movements that we naturally make every day are not particularly harmful in the activities of our daily lives. What does make them hazardous in work situations though, is the continual repetition of the movements (e.g., using a computer mouse, cutting meat, or working on a production line). And there are other work factors that may contribute to injuries, such as awkward postures and fixed body positions, excessive force concentrated on small parts of the body such as the hand or wrist, and a fast pace of work with insufficient breaks or recovery time.
It is not clear why some people develop RSI and others who do the same work do not. Some research suggests that psychosocial workplace factors (e.g., stress at work) can also contribute to RSI, increasing muscle tension and/or affecting how the body feels pain. Each of these factors alone may not cause injury, however a combination of factors and the interaction among them can cause RSI.
How to Prevent RSI
As with any hazards, RSI are best eliminated at the source which, in this case, is the repetition of the tasks performed. Prevention of these injuries should focus on eliminating repetitive work through job design which may involve mechanizing certain tasks. In addition, jobs should be structured so that workers can rotate between various tasks where they do something completely different, using different muscles groups.
When it is not practical to eliminate the repetitive aspect of a job, a well-designed workstation that is adjusted to fit the worker's body size and shape can help. Workstations should be fully adjustable and enable a worker to work in standing, sitting, or sitting-standing positions.
Workers should be provided with appropriate, carefully maintained tools and equipment to reduce the force needed to complete tasks and prevent muscle strain. Providing equipment to help with tasks that require holding elements (e.g. vises and clamps for woodworking and machining) can save workers from exerting a great deal of muscular effort in awkward positions.
Because RSIs develop slowly, workers should be trained to understand what causes these injuries, how best to prevent them, and how to recognize the early signs and symptoms of RSI. Workers need to know how to adjust workstations to fit their tasks and individual needs. Besides providing training, employers should encourage employees to take short, frequent rest breaks to allow their muscles to relax, and to consciously control muscle tension throughout the work shift.
It is important to note that many RSI cases resolve themselves once the source of the worker's RSI is eliminated. However if nothing is done to address the injury or remove its cause, the damage could become permanent. In general, the longer someone experiences the symptoms of the RSI before eliminating the problem-causing activity, the higher the risk of developing a more treatment-resistant condition.
Resources to help raise awareness of and address RSI:
- CCOHS Ergonomics & MSDs key topic page
- OSH Answers fact sheet on work-related musculoskeletal disorders
- Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) Prevention Manual, CCOHS
- Office Ergonomics Safety Guide, CCOHS
- Musculoskeletal Injuries by Occupation online tool, WorkSafe Victoria
- MSD Tool kit, Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario
- MusculoSkeletal Disorders (MSDs): Awareness free e-course
A Meeting to Remember
10 tips to help make your health and safety committee meetings better
The joint health and safety committee plays an important role in working with the employer to create and maintain a safe workplace. And the success of the committee depends partly on how well the committee meetings are organized and conducted. Here are some tips to help make your meetings effective:
- Set the schedule. Set the committee meeting schedule for the next year to make the meeting dates predictable. This allows people the time to plan, prepare for the meetings, and manage their schedules.
- Post and remind. Post the meeting schedule on notice boards to make members and others in the workplace aware of meeting arrangements. Remind all members of the meeting a week in advance.
- Set the stage. Create an agenda that includes items submitted by other members and circulate it to the committee well before the meeting.
- Keep it on track. The co-chairperson should start on time and move the meeting along by following the agenda and keeping discussion focused on health and safety matters, within the time available.
- Educate. Set aside time at every meeting for education, which may include talks from inspectors, suppliers, or experts on equipment or procedures, or watching an informative webinar or video.
- Recommend action. State the problem clearly, based on known facts; investigate the problem to find the root cause; and recommend actions to correct the problem.
- Wrap it up. End all discussion items with a decision and definite outcomes, indicating what action will be taken and by whom.
- Prioritise items which have appeared more than once on the agenda and make sure they are addressed.
- Document. Keep accurate and clear minutes as a permanent record of the meeting. Include time and date of the meeting, who attended, items discussed, recommendations (and rationale), and time and date of next meeting.
- Communicate. Keep all employees informed about the committee activities and decisions by making the meeting reports easily available: post, distribute, or provide online access to documents.
Resources to help you make your meetings more effective:
OSH Answers fact sheets: Health and Safety Committees, CCOHS
Joint Occupational Health & Safety Committee Workbook [PDF], WorkSafeBC
Learning by Committee webinar, CCOHS
Mental Health at Work
New Report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Have you ever been depressed or suffered from anxiety? If so, you are not alone. A recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says that one in five workers currently suffers from a mental disorder, and many are struggling to cope.
Mental illness is a growing problem, affecting productivity in the workplace and worker well-being. The report says that poor mental health represents about 30% to 50% of all new disability benefit claims in OECD nations. The economic burden of mental illness in Canada alone was estimated to be $51 billion in 2003, according to the Institute for Work and Health.
The OECD's report, entitled Sick on the Job? Myths and Realities about Mental Health at Work found that workers with a mental disorder miss work for illness more often than other workers. And of those with mental disorders who don't take sick leave, many may underperform in their jobs and have lower productivity compared to their mentally healthy colleagues.
"Such high losses in productivity suggest that policies directed at sickness monitoring and management are essential", says the report. "But this approach is not enough because it implies that intervention and support is in many cases coming too late. Good-quality jobs, good working conditions and, in particular, good management play a crucial role."
The OECD reports that mental illness is undertreated. Currently the focus of health systems is treating people with severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia who make up approximately 25% of sufferers. Less attention is being paid to the 75% of sufferers who have common mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. Almost 50% of those with a severe mental disorder and over 70% of those with a moderate mental disorder don't get any treatment for their illness, and for many of those who do, treatment is inadequate. Most common mental disorders can get better, and taking them more seriously would increase the likelihood of people receiving proper treatment and staying at work, or returning to work.
The OECD calls for policymakers to find new ways to tackle the social and economic problem of mental illness. With growing job insecurity and work pressure, work-related stress and job strain are likely to increase in the years ahead, as may the prevalence of mental illness. "To help sufferers, a new approach is needed, especially in the workplace," says the OECD. "This includes good working conditions which reduce and better manage stress; systematic monitoring of sick leave behaviour; and help to employers to reduce workplace conflicts and avoid unnecessary dismissal caused by mental health problems."
Learn more about the OECD report: Sick on the Job? Myths and Realities about Mental Health and Work.
Visit Healthy Minds at Work for more free information and resources.
Listen to the CCOHS podcast, Psychological Health and Safety.
Cysts and Time Shifts
This month's edition of Health and Safety To Go! features a podcast on ganglion cysts in honour of RSI Awareness Day (February 29), and an encore of Losing Sleep Over Daylight Saving Time (DST), just in time for the March 11th switch to DST.
Feature podcast: Just a bump or a ganglion cyst?
You may find out that the unsightly bump on your hand or wrist causing you pain or discomfort is a "ganglion cyst", and it may be caused by the type of work you do. The podcast talks more about ganglions, what causes them, and how you may prevent them.
The podcast runs 2:29 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore podcast: Losing Sleep Over Daylight Saving Time
In a few weeks on the second Sunday in March (March 11), most Canadians will turn their clocks ahead an hour for a much welcomed extra hour of daylight, and in the process they will sacrifice precious minutes of sleep. CCOHS takes a quick look at Daylight Saving Time and its possible effects on workplace injuries.
The podcast runs 3:01 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips and insights into the health, safety and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience...or on the go!
Make a Date With Health and Safety: Upcoming Events
National Day of Mourning April 28
April 28th is National Day of Mourning in Canada. The flag on Parliament Hill will fly at half mast, we will pause, remember those who have lost their lives or been injured in the workplace, and reflect on how to prevent future tragedies.
You can wear your support with a Day of Mourning commemorative pin. Or, you can download and display the 2012 poster in your workplace. Printed posters are also available at a cost. To receive your materials in time, you should place your orders by March 31.
Steps for Life Walk May 6
On May 6th, in more than 35 cities across Canada, the Steps for Life 5 KM Walk will kick off Safety and Health Week 2012. The event is not only fun, it also helps spread the message that workplace injuries and illnesses are preventable. Steps for Life is the major fundraising event for Threads of Life, a national charitable organization dedicated to supporting families along their journey of healing who have suffered from a workplace fatality, life-altering illness or occupational disease.
Our CCOHS team will once again be walking in the Hamilton event. Find the walk closest to you and put your team together. It will be a Sunday to remember.
Learn more about how you can participate on the Steps for Life website.
Health and Safety Week May 6 - 12
With the theme of "Making it Work", organizations all over North America are planning their activities for Health and Safety Week. It is a time in which attention turns to the importance of preventing injury and illness in the workplace, at home and in the community. CCOHS will be presenting a special event to help workplaces participate and help raise awareness of health and safety that will last beyond this special week. Stay tuned for further details.
Learn more about the National Day of Mourning.
Visit the Health and Safety Week website and get inspired.
Learn more about Threads of Life.
The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2012, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety