Following on from our advice on RSI claims which can be read here we thought it would be useful to look at what repetitive strain injury is and also offer some tips on how you can help prevent repetitive strain injury in the workplace.
What Is RSI?
RSI, or Repetitive Strain Injury, is a common and potentially debilitating condition that affects the muscles, nerves, and tendons due to repetitive and prolonged movements. It typically develops in individuals who engage in repetitive tasks, such as typing, using a computer mouse or performing assembly line work. RSI is often associated with poor ergonomics and improper posture.
Prevention and early intervention are crucial in managing RSI. Ergonomic workstations, regular breaks, and exercises to strengthen and stretch affected muscles can help reduce the risk. If left untreated, RSI can lead to chronic pain and long-term disability. Seeking medical attention and making necessary lifestyle adjustments can improve the prognosis and quality of life for those affected by RSI.
What Are The Symptoms Of RSI?
Usually, the symptoms associated with RSI will take a while to develop. It may, therefore, take some time for the damage to your tendons and muscles to become apparent. Also, what might seem like a minor niggle may become a much more serious injury if you fail to seek treatment at the first signs of RSI.
Some of the most common symptoms linked to RSI include:
- Tenderness and pain in muscles and joints.
- Throbbing and stiffness.
- Cramps, tingling or pins and needles.
- Numbness and weakness.
- Tremors leading to clumsiness.
- Shooting pains.
- Difficulty completing everyday tasks like turning on a tap or opening a jar.
- Cold fingertips and hands.
As the condition progresses, you may start noticing the symptoms within a few minutes of starting the activity. They also last long after you have completed the activity.
Common Causes Of Work-Related RSI
Workplace RSI can be caused by certain factors present in various workplace settings. Some common causes include:
Repetitive Tasks: Jobs that entail repetitive actions, like data entry, assembly line work or operating a till in a shop, put a continuous strain on certain muscles and tendons. This may lead to RSI over time.
Poor Ergonomics: Inadequate workstation design, improper chair height, poorly positioned keyboard/mouse or inadequate monitor height can force employees into awkward postures, contributing to RSI development.
Forceful Movements: Jobs requiring forceful actions, like lifting heavy objects or using excessive pressure while operating tools, can cause damage to muscles and tendons.
Inadequate Breaks: The risk of workplace RSI can be increased if staff are not allowed adequate rest breaks.
Lack of Training: Insufficient training on proper ergonomics and safe work practices can lead to employees unknowingly adopting harmful postures and movements that increase the risk of RSI.
What Parts Of The Body Can Be Affected By RSI?
RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) can affect various parts of the body, particularly those that are involved in repetitive movements or subjected to prolonged stress. Some common areas include:
- Hands and Wrists. RSI can manifest as conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, where pressure on the median nerve causes tingling, numbness and weakness in the hands and wrists.
- Forearms. Muscles and tendons in the forearms can be affected, leading to conditions like tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) or golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis).
- Shoulders. Repetitive overhead movements or poor posture can contribute to shoulder RSI, resulting in pain, inflammation and limited range of motion.
- Neck. RSI-related strain in the neck often occurs due to prolonged poor posture or holding the neck in awkward positions.
- Back. Individuals with jobs involving heavy lifting or poor ergonomics may experience RSI-related back pain and muscle strain.
- Legs and Knees. Although less common, jobs that require repetitive or forceful leg movements can lead to RSI affecting the knees or other leg muscles.
When the RSI becomes more severe, the discomfort and pain persist for longer periods and you can feel it even when you are not at work.
10 Tips On Preventing RSI In The Workplace
According to the Health and Safety Executive, employers must try to protect workers and reduce the risk of them suffering RSI and other work-related upper limb disorders. In this section, we’ve included 10 tips that employers should consider utilising to help to prevent work-related RSI:
- Ergonomic Workstations. Design desks or work areas with ergonomics in mind. Ensure that chairs, keyboards, mice and monitors are properly adjusted to promote neutral postures and reduce stress on muscles and joints. Encourage the use of ergonomic accessories like wrist rests and footrests.
- Workstation Arrangement. Arrange work tools and materials within easy reach to minimise excessive reaching and stretching. Avoid clutter on the desk to maintain to make it easier for staff to work without obstructions.
- Regular Breaks. Encourage employees to take regular breaks from repetitive tasks. Short, frequent breaks allow the muscles to rest and recover which can help to reduce the risk of RSI.
- Stretching and Exercise. Encourage employees to perform stretching exercises targeting the areas most susceptible to repetitive motion injuries, such as hands, wrists, shoulders and neck. If you’re worried about RSI injuries, you could ask your GP about the types of exercise that could strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility.
- Regular Staff Training. Employers must offer comprehensive training on safe working practices that can reduce the risk of RSI. This training should also focus on spotting the early signs of RSI and how staff can report any health concerns they may have about their role.
- Job Rotation. Where possible, job rotation or task variety should be introduced to reduce the repetitive nature of certain jobs. This allows employees to use different muscle groups and could reduce the risk of overuse injuries.
- Tools and Equipment. Provide employees with tools that are the right size and fit for purpose. Also, consider using equipment that’s designed to reduce the strain on the body during repetitive tasks. This may include specialised keyboards, ergonomic mouse options or tools with reduced vibration.
- Environmental Factors. Ensure that the workplace environment is conducive to good health. Adequate lighting, proper ventilation and comfortable temperatures can contribute to overall well-being and reduce stress on the body.
- Employee Awareness. Foster a culture of health and well-being where employees are encouraged to communicate any discomfort or early signs of RSI. Employers should promptly address any concerns and provide support and resources for prevention.
- Regular Assessments. Employers must carry out regular risk assessments of workstations and tasks to identify and address potential risk factors. Adjustments and improvements can be made based on the findings to further prevent RSI.
By implementing these preventive measures, employers can create a safer and healthier work environment which could reduce the risk of workplace-related RSI and promote the well-being of their employees.
The Risk Of RSI For Home Workers
Since Covid times, many of us spend more time working from home than we did before the pandemic. This may increase the risk of RSI and employers should be wary of this. They should:
- Check whether the employee has a dedicated work area.
- Ask the employee to complete a self-assessment workstation review.
- Ensure there is an adjustable monitor available to prevent slouching.
- Ensure the employee’s chair is ergonomically designed and provides lumbar support.
How To Treat RSI Symptoms
RSI symptoms can, in the large, be treated at home. The NHS advise that you should:
- Keep active.
- Take painkillers or anti-inflammatory medicines.
- Use heat packs or ice packs every 2 to 3 hours.
- Speak to your employer to see if alternative working arrangements are possible.
If your symptoms persist, or you’re unsure of how to treat your symptoms yourself, you may need to speak to your GP directly. They may refer you to a physiotherapist who may show you the types of exercises that may reduce your symptoms.
What To Do If You’re Suffering From Work-Related RSI
If you suspect you’re suffering from RSI as a result of working practices, you should:
- Email your employer to explain your symptoms and to give them the opportunity to make changes.
- Seek medical advice from your GP or by calling NHS 111.
- Follow any guidance your GP offers regarding exercises that could reduce your symptoms.
- Rest the area as much as possible to allow your muscles and tendons to recover.
Remember, it’s always best to seek professional medical advice for work-related injuries as you could do more harm than good when treating your injuries yourself.
Can You Claim Compensation For Workplace RSI?
As your employer has to try to protect your well-being while you’re at work (according to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974), you could claim compensation for RSI if it can be shown that it was caused by your employer’s negligence.
You will need evidence such as proof of diagnosis, any emails you’ve sent raising concerns and statements from colleagues about your working conditions. However, we’d suggest that you take on specialist legal advice before starting a workplace injury claim because the process can involve complex legal and medical questions.
If you’d like free legal advice on claiming for workplace RSI, please feel free to call us on 0800 6524 881.