Many tasks in daily life involve carrying out the same physical motions over and over, and in some cases, these kinds of tasks can also be a part of one’s daily duties at work. It’s important to consider ergonomics when performing these tasks, or the tasks can lead to workplace injury.
Preparing large amounts of food, typing on a keyboard, loading and unloading cars and trucks, or standing or sitting for extended periods of time are all common examples of scenarios that could lead to such an injury. They are referred to in a variety of ways: repetitive stress injury (RSI), repetitive motion injury, repetitive strain injury or musculoskeletal disorders. These types of injuries make up a significant portion of workplace injuries every year and, according to the CDC, result in billions of dollars of losses for employers annually. Don’t play these types of injuries on repeat – read on for tips to prevent repetitive strain injuries at work.
Types of repetitive strain injuries
There are many different types of repetitive strain injuries depending on the cause and the area of the body it affects, but commonly diagnosed examples include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Tennis elbow
- Shin splints
Most people have heard of at least a few of these injuries, but the list of possible injuries is extensive. It’s important to assess daily tasks for the potential risk of conditions that can result in injury to any part of the body.
Cause of repetitive strain injuries
There are a variety of factors that can lead to an RSI. Virginia Tech Environmental Health and Safety outlines the following leading causes of these types of injuries:
The most obvious culprit is repetition. Performing the same motion over and over for extended periods of time places strain on muscles and tendons. Exacerbating factors that lead to injury are the speed and force of the motions required for the task, and what muscles are involved.
Prolonged reaching, twisting, bending, kneeling, squatting, working with hands overhead or holding fixed positions for extended periods can also lead to injury. These positions are not “neutral” positions and therefore require exertion to sustain the posture as well as perform the task.
Repeated or continuous contact with hard or sharp objects (desk edges, unpadded seats, narrow tool handles, etc.) can place pressure on nerves, tendons and blood vessels, all which can inhibit nerve function and blood flow, and over time, cause injury.
Sustained vibrations can also lead to muscle fatigue and sometimes injury. Operating power tools, heavy machinery or driving large vehicles for extended periods of time are common precursors to these types of RSI.
Lifting, pushing and pulling are all frequent precursors to RSI. Tasks requiring forceful exertions place greater demands on the body, both to accomplish the task itself as well as to maintain control of other important functions, such as core balance and dexterity, to prevent injury from overbalancing, overcorrecting or being able to change positions to avoid other environmental factors.
A common denominator for most RSI is that they develop after enduring one or more of the following conditions for extended periods on a frequent basis. The longer the period of continuous work, the longer and more frequent the recovery time will be to prevent injury.
Other less common conditions that can contribute to sustaining RSI include cold temperatures, insufficient breaks, sustaining speed of work or lack of familiarity with how to perform the task efficiently with proper ergonomic form.
Prevention is key
The most important step in addressing RSI is preventing repetitive strain injuries at work from occurring in the first place. Addressing the following items with employees who have these types of tasks as part of their daily routines is an important first step:
- Ensure employees have adequate time to perform repetitive motion tasks to reduce the speed required to complete each motion.
- Ensure employees have adequate time and tools to reduce the amount of force they must exert when completing each motion.
- Assess the ergonomics of the employee’s working conditions to ensure that employees use proper ergonomic form, and if necessary, purchase equipment or tools that will reduce strain and fatigue when completing these tasks.
Consider hiring an ergonomics specialist to assess your offices and worksites as a starting point to gain insight on where there are RSI risks to employees as well as tips for how to address them. For more information, please contact your broker or tribal risk manager.