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Whether you work at a computer, installing ceiling tiles, butchering meat, or on an assembly line, your job likely requires you to perform the same task or movement over and over again - which could put you at risk of developing a repetitive strain injury (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.
Pain is the most common symptom associated with RSI. Symptoms may vary but often include joint stiffness, muscle tightness, redness and swelling of the affected area. Some workers may also experience sensations of "pins and needles," numbness, skin colour changes, and decreased sweating of the hands. The symptoms of RSI usually develop gradually and the injury may progress in stages ranging from mild to severe, eventually causing longer periods of pain. Eventually, without treatment, the symptoms can become constant and affect your ability to perform your job or even light duties. At this stage the condition may be irreversible.
Not everyone goes through these stages in the same way, however the first feeling of pain is a signal that the muscles and tendons should rest and recover. Otherwise, an injury can become longstanding, and sometimes, irreversible. The earlier people recognize symptoms, the quicker they should respond to them.
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.
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.
And lastly, keep in mind that prevention and control measures are more likely to be effective if they have been established with the participation of both employees and employers.
RSI Awareness Day is February 28th. Here are some resources to help raise awareness of, and address, RSI:
Workplace Health & Safety Matters
Workplace Health and Safety Matters is the blog of Steve Horvath, President and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. In a recent blog post, Steve shared his insights from his trip to Dresden, Germany.
I've spent several days in Dresden, Germany assisting DGUV (German Social Accident Insurance) organize the Symposium on Education and Learning for the XXth World Congress on Safety and Health at Work. The World Congress occurs every three years and brings approximately 10,000 delegates from around the world to exchange ideas about occupational health and safety.
I am honoured to be a co-coordinator of one of the Symposia along with the Russian Federation and the DGUV, and am excited by the possibilities from working with such a committed group. The organizers at the DGUV were not only prepared to listen, but actively encouraged new ideas and looked for ways for us to go outside the boundaries.
CCOHS' role is one of innovator and leader in our field. We are recognized for bringing a fresh perspective to the table when discussing change in organizational culture and needs, because we are strongly connected to the workplace and institutions through our collaborations and relationships. Thus, we are able to adapt the delivery of the message of prevention to the new realities of our stakeholders.
These were long days and late nights that I believe would not have occurred had we simply remained with the old standard of providing a forum for exchanging technical information with speeches and workshops. We had an enthusiastic group willing to go beyond convention in order to get a meaningful message across and make a clear impact on workplaces. CCOHS has made a commitment to achieving something transformational, something sustainable that will be a catalyst for change in all workplaces. We have always promoted a vision of occupational health and safety that is inclusive and embraces change in response to the evolving work environment. The DGUV has a similar vision for the World Congress in Frankfurt. It will go beyond the boundaries to provide solutions, promote dialogue and be inspirational. We share this common vision, and that is why I was prepared to commit this kind of time and energy to help make this a success - it is important and will make a difference in the workplace.
Read Steve's blog, Workplace Health and Safety Matters.
This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcasts put radon on the radar, and feature an encore presentation on ganglion cysts.
Feature Podcast: Putting the Spotlight on Radon
You can't detect the presence of radon but did you know it's a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the environment? This podcast explains what radon is and what the potential health effects to workers are. CCOHS also shares how workplaces can detect the presence of radon and most importantly, how exposure can be controlled.
The podcast runs 5:22 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore 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. This podcast from CCOHS talks more about ganglions, what causes them, and how you may prevent them.
The podcast runs 2:29 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!
See the complete list of podcast topics. Better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes and don't miss a single episode.
Work is an important part of life, but no job is worth getting hurt over. Workplace injuries happen in a heartbeat but the resulting injuries can have a lasting impact on your ability to do the things you like to do. As a young person new to the working world, there are things you need to know to stay safe on the job.
The "It's Your Job!" contest challenges secondary school students to use their creativity to develop an original video that can be used in social media to illustrate to younger workers the importance of working safely on the job.
By submitting a video, contestants have a chance to win cash prizes and provincial and national recognition.
Who can enter
The contest is open to current secondary school students in Canada.
Employees of provincial or federal workers' compensation boards, provincial and federal ministries and departments of labour and their immediate family members are not eligible.
To learn more about the rules, contest entry forms, and awarding of prizes please go to the partner list below and click on the province or territory where you live.
The top videos from all provinces and territories will be submitted to the "It's Your Job!" Canadian finals. If your video is one of them, a panel of celebrities will judge your work.
The first place video at the Canadian finals will be awarded $2,000; second place will receive $1,500; and, third place will receive $1,000.
Each winning secondary school will receive a matching prize equal to the total prize awarded to the winning student or team of students.
A selection of the top videos from each province and territory will be posted on a You Tube video contest channel from Sunday May 4 to Monday May 12, 2014, where Canadian viewers can vote for their favourite video. The video that receives the most votes will receive an additional $1,000 prize.
We are already deep into the planning for the next pan Canadian CCOHS Forum to be held October 26-27, 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The Forum brings together representatives from Canadian, provincial and territorial governments, employers and labour organizations as well as subject experts to share their knowledge, perspectives and collective experience around important issues that affect worker health, safety and well-being.
This will be CCOHS' fifth national forum, with the most recent event held in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2012.
Watch for details coming soon, and until then, remember to save the date.
Read the reports from previous Forums:
Forum III - Leading Workplace Change Summary Report PDF, 2010
Forum07 - Emerging Health & Safety Issues from Changing Workplaces Summary Report PDF, 2007
Forum05 - Recognizing and Preventing Occupational Disease: Strategies and Recommendations from Canadians PDF, 2005
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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.
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