Rita has recently been diagnosed with arthritis. Her joint stiffness is painful to the point where it is difficult for her to get in and out of her chair. Arthritis is often considered an older person’s disease. Not so. Rita is 32 years old. Over half of the 4.6 million Canadians affected are younger than 65. Learn what steps you can take to reduce the adverse effects of arthritis in the workplace.
The Arthritis Society of Canada reports that arthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in Canada and typically occurs during the prime working years, between ages 35-50. It is predicted that more than seven million Canadian adults will be diagnosed with arthritis in the next 20 years.
Arthritis can affect workers anywhere - in offices, manufacturing plants, retail environments and those working outdoors. Common symptoms such as pain, fatigue, joint swelling, stiffness and limited movement, can make it difficult to perform any job. There is a wide variation in the symptoms experienced by the same person, including long periods with no symptoms.
Managing arthritis at work
It is common for workers with arthritis to feel frustrated and/or anxious. According to a national study of arthritis in the workplace, many Canadians with arthritis are giving up breaks to complete tasks, and using sick days and taking vacation time to rest at home in order to continue working. Modifying the way you do your work and/or your work environment can help reduce the adverse effects of arthritis.
Modify your work environment
Organize your workspace so that frequently used items are within easy reach. Stand square to your workstation so you’re not bending or twisting, and use a footrest to decrease the pressure on your lower back if you work in a standing position or at a counter. Using an anti-fatigue mat can help to relieve strain on the lower back and legs if you stand for long periods of time on hard floors.
If you use a chair, use a chair mat to make it easier to slide or turn your chair. In some cases, it might be beneficial to use a sit-stand stool. Use of a telephone headset will reduce the amount of neck side bending required to hold the phone receiver.
Maintain a good posture
Sit in a proper upright, relaxed position. You should feel no strain on your back, neck or limbs. Sit so your hips, knees, ankles and elbows are each at a 90 degree angle. Your arm rests should be at the right height, with your shoulders and elbows in a relaxed position. Make sure your chair is comfortable, that it provides good support to your back and legs, and is properly adjusted.
If you use a computer
Use a split keyboard so your hands, wrists, and forearms are in a more natural position. A specially designed mouse called a trackball mouse can reduce the amount of hand and arm movement. Make sure your chair is within a comfortable distance from the computer and that your elbows are in a relaxed 90 degree angle to the keyboard. Your eyes should be about 40-70 cm (15-27 inches) from the monitor. You should be looking straight ahead and the screen should be at eye level.
Be careful when moving or lifting
If you must move heavy objects as part of your job, use a dolly or cart to help reduce strain in your back, arms and legs. Try to roll or slide heavy objects, if possible. Push; don’t pull.
Take your time moving objects: rushing could cause injury to your joints. Ask a co-worker for assistance. Use a step stool to reach items high on shelves, and use a briefcase on wheels when taking work home or to a meeting.
Pick appropriate footwear
Wear comfortable footwear that supports your feet and promotes good posture. Avoid wearing shoes with high heels. Use insoles to help decrease strain on your feet, legs and lower back.
Take care of yourself
You can help mitigate the effects of arthritis by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Work at a moderate, reasonable pace and plan to get extra rest if you know you have an important event coming up at work. Save those important or more difficult tasks for when you feel the most energetic.
Switch it up to prevent straining yourself. Alternate your position from sitting, standing and walking as much as possible and take stretch breaks. And most of all, keep moving.
As an employer, you can:
- Provide an ergonomic workplace and job accommodation, as required.
- Allow a flexible work schedule – for example, allow the employee to work from home during flares and accommodate medical appointments.
- Raise awareness so everyone knows what support systems are available, including the employee benefits plan.
- Encourage and maintain good two-way communication with employees who live with arthritis.
- Arthritis In The Workplace, The Arthritis Society
- Fighting Arthritis in the Workplace, National Health Worksite: U.S. Center for Disease Control
- Arthritis & Workplace Health: Ensuring Employees Reach Their Full Potential Webinar, CCOHS
- Foot Comfort and Safety at Work Fact sheet, CCOHS
- Ergonomics Fact sheet, CCOHS
- How to adjust office chairs Fact sheet, CCOHS
You’ve been proactive, taking steps to manage job stress, and making ergonomic adjustments and enhancements to your work area to protect against musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), but these steps alone may not be enough. A new study recommends that exercising on the job could be your best defence against upper body MSDs.
The Institute for Work & Health (IWH) has published findings that provide strong evidence that implementing workplace-based resistance training can help prevent and manage MSDs of the upper body, which includes the neck, shoulder, arm, elbow, wrist and hand.
The IWH systematic review also found moderate evidence that stretching exercise programs (including yoga), workstation forearm supports, and vibration feedback on computer mouse use can all have a positive effect on preventing and managing upper body MSDs.
“Employers should consider implementing these prevention measures if they’re suitable to the workplace,” says Dwayne Van Eerd, an associate scientist at IWH and co-lead of the review. Suitability to the workplace can be determined by incorporating the knowledge and experience of occupational health and safety professionals and workers.
The review defines musculoskeletal disorders as a group of painful disorders affecting muscles, tendons, joints and nerves. MSDs can affect all body parts, although the neck, back, arm, hand and shoulders are the most common areas. The study states that in Canada, MSDs account for 40 to 60 per cent of work-related injury claims involving time off work.
Resistance training refers to exercises that cause the muscles to contract against an external resistance (e.g. dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing, own body weight) to increase muscle strength, tone, mass and/or endurance.
The review also found moderate evidence that some programs have no effect on the prevention and management of MSDs. These programs include job stress management, electromagnetic biofeedback (feedback about your body (bio) received through electrical sensors), and workstation adjustments alone (i.e. without minimal worker involvement).
Based on these findings and on discussions about the findings with numerous stakeholder groups, the systematic review team made these recommendations:
- Implementing a workplace-based resistance training exercise program can help prevent and manage upper extremity musculoskeletal symptoms and disorders.
- Workplaces should consider implementing stretching exercise programs (including yoga), workstation forearm supports and vibration feedback on mouse use, if applicable to the job.
- Workplaces should consider seeking alternatives to job stress management, electromagnetic biofeedback and workstation adjustments without engaging the worker.
Access the full report: Effectiveness of workplace interventions in the prevention of upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders and symptoms: an update of the evidence, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, BMJ Journals.
Resources from CCOHS:
Health and Safety To Go
This month’s Health and Safety To Go! podcasts feature the new episode Minimize the Risk When Working at Heights and an encore presentation of Avoiding Slips, Trips and Falls.
Feature Podcast: Minimize the Risk When Working at Heights
For construction workers, roofers, window cleaners, painters, arborists and firefighters, working at heights is a part of their daily work experience. Avoiding the risk of falling from ladders, scaffolds, lifts, buckets, mast climbers, roofs, balconies and trees requires safety diligence by both worker and employer. In this podcast CCOHS provides tips on how to work safely when working at heights.
The podcast runs 5:48 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Avoiding Slips, Trips and Falls
Join us as we look at ways you can avoid slipping, tripping and falling in the workplace.
The podcast runs 2:44 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!
The 5th national health and safety conference for CCOHS The Changing World of Work is just a few months away.
Don’t miss this unique opportunity to participate in a two-day national event that will bring together subject experts, workers, employers, and governments to share their knowledge and experience around current and emerging health and safety issues.
Keynote speaker Dr. James Orbinski, presenting Creating the Space to be Human, will be joined by other experts including:
- Dr. Todd Conklin, Human Factors/Performance
- Dr. Linda Duxbury, The Changing Workplace: Work/Life Balance and Generational Shift
- Xabier Irastorza, Findings from the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks
- Lynda Robson, Breakthrough Change in Workplace Health and Safety
- Troy Winters, Ergonomics
- Dr. Carla Lipsig-Mummé, Impact of Climate Change on Work
There will be simultaneous French language interpretation available.
The conference is filling up. Don’t miss the chance to get inspired, and to expand your network by getting to know health and safety professionals from all across Canada.
Early bird rate expires November 30! Don’t miss your chance to save.
About the Forum
CCOHS Forum 2016 will take place on February 29 and March 1, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columbia. For more information about Forum and to register, visit http://www.ccohs.ca/products/forum16/.
CCOHS is looking for industrious, committed students in occupational health and safety programs to apply for their 2016 Dick Martin Scholarship Award. The annual, national scholarship is open to all students enrolled in an occupational health and safety course or program at an accredited Canadian college or university, leading to an occupational health and safety certificate, diploma or degree.
Two scholarships worth $3000 each will be awarded to one winning university student and one winning college student. A $500 award will also be provided to each of the winning students’ academic institutions.
To apply for the scholarship, post-secondary students are invited to submit a 1000 -1200 word essay on one of two topics related to occupational health and safety. Essays will be judged on the intellectual content, the practical and theoretical value and the presentation and style.
For application rules, criteria, tips and other guidelines visit www.ccohs.ca/scholarship.
If you’re not a student, but know one, why not share this with them?
Applications are open until 11:59 p.m. EST, January 31, 2016 and the winners will be announced during North American Occupational Health and Safety Week in May 2016.
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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.
© 2016, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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