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Repetitive strain injury (RSI) used to be a little known industrial injury. Nowadays, however, it is much better known and many workers who have been involved in occupations that involve repetitive tasks have found themselves to be suffering from the condition. One of the consequences of RSI is the negative impact that it has on the productivity of any worker who suffers from it. Another is that the employer of a worker who suffers from RSI may well find that he or she is liable to pay compensation for failing in their duty to take reasonable steps to protect their workforce from harm.

In this article we provide a brief explanation for what is meant by RSI and offer some tips to employers and employees as to how to avoid it – and the potential consequences referred to above.

What is RSI?

RSI is an all embracing term to cover injuries that are sustained by the muscles, tendons and nerves through repetitive use. Types of RSI include tenosynovitis, tendonitis, ganglions, Gamekeeper’s Thumb, epicondylitis (tennis elbow) dystonia (writer’s cramp) Dupuytren’s contracture, DeQuervain’s syndrome, bursitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Although normally work related, RSI can also be linked to leisure activities, as in the case of tennis elbow, which can also affect golfers. RSI is caused by activities such as repeated use of the arms, working too quickly, maintaining the same muscle position for lengthy periods, working in an unsuitable position and failing to take a sufficient number of breaks. RSI has several symptoms including soreness, aches and pains, tingling, numbness and shaking, reduced strength, reduced manual dexterity and coldness.

Tips for Preventing RSI in the workplace

1.Vary the work

Because RSI is closely associated with engaging in the same work tasks repetitively, the main strategy for guarding against it is to vary an employee’s work. This will have a direct effect in reducing the risk of RSI occurring.

2.Take a break

If it is not possible to vary the type of work (or the possibility is limited) workers should take a regular break from their work. This should be a break of at least ten minutes after every two hours of work.

3.Adopt a healthy position

Providing a work environment that is ergonomically sound reduces the risk of RSI as it ensures that the body is properly positioned to carry out the tasks that it is being asked to perform.

4.Loosen your grip

Gripping items too tightly increases the possibility of sustaining a repetitive strain injury. Loosening it reduces that risk.

5.Ensure that the workplace is adequately heated.

This further reduces the risk of RSI caused by repetitive work in colder temperatures.

6.Stand up and Stretch

If you work in a seated position, stand up and stretch regularly. Although only for a short period, this is still a small break from your routine and will not unduly interfere with your work responsibilities.

Unfortunately, some occupations, by their very nature, mean that repetitive movements are inevitable. Nevertheless, even where this is the case, RSI in the workplace can be prevented by the adoption of the tips set out above.