Friday February 29, 2008 is International Repetitive Strain Injuries Awareness Day.
Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI), as part of the larger musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) category of injury, are the most common type of workplace injury in Victoria. Over half of all WorkCover claims are for an MSD.
Between 1996 and 2002, the number of Australian workers' compensation cases for repetitive movement (low muscle loading) increased by 19%.
This is very likely just the tip of the iceberg, because fewer than half the people who are injured at work receive any compensation or even medical assistance for their injuries. Often these are part time, casual, contract or agency workers and the self-employed. Some are forced out of the workforce by their work strain injuries.
Victorian Unions are once again calling on WorkSafe, as the regulator for workplace health and safety in Victoria, to:
- Get serious about the prevention of RSI and all MSDs and
- Enforce health and safety laws.
RSI Day is an opportunity to promote injury prevention and raise awareness about the prevalence of RSI and their effects. To stop these injuries, we need to eliminate monotonous, repetitive and stressful work. work at fast speeds and poor work organization (unnecessary overtime, cutbacks and layoffs, substandard equipment, lack of worker control).
The first RSI Awareness Day was February 29, 2000. That day was selected because it was the only non-repetitive day of the year, like this year's RSI Day. The day is recognized on February 28 in non-leap years.
What is RSI (OOS)?
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a generic term used to cover a number of overuse injuries affecting the soft tissue (muscles, tendons and nerves) of the neck, back, shoulders, arms, hands and, in some cases, the lower limbs as well. These are almost always work-related, although other factors may also be involved.
'RSI' is not a recognised medical condition and the term does not lend itself readily to use as a medical diagnosis. The phrase is similar to 'sports injury' in that it describes how the injury was sustained, but says nothing about the injury itself. There are a number of recognised conditions, such as carpel tunnel syndrome, that are RSI injuries.
The causes of RSI conditions include repetition, force and awkward or static posture. Poor workplace ergonomics and job design are significant factors in the development of these injuries.Symptoms include numbness, tingling, sharp pains, dull aches, weakness, loss of grip and restricted movement of limbs.
Some myths about overuse injuries
Myth 1: Overuse injuries are just in your head
Just because there is no 'visible' trauma does not mean an injury is non-existent. Those who say this have obviously never suffered from overuse injuries. Countless researchers have shown that these injuries not only exist, but can be extremely debilitating.
Myth 2: Women are more vulnerable to overuse injuries
Workplace studies show when men and women are exposed to the same working conditions, the development of overuse symptoms is similar. However, often women continue to do most of the jobs at higher risk for overuse injuries.
Myth 3: Work and the natural effects of aging cause aches, pains and stiffness. This is inevitable and should be ignored.
Studies demonstrate that workers do not develop overuse injuries when jobs are properly designed. Pain is a signal generated by injury or disease. Ignoring symptoms does nothing to change the working conditions or lessen the impact of overuse injuries.
Work shouldn't cause pain and if it does, it needs to be fixed. The elimination of work hazards which cause overuse injuries and pain is the goal
What to do about RSI
Employers have a duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace.
The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007, Part 3.1 Manual Handling set out the duties of your employer to identify and control any hazardous manual handling tasks. Regulation 3.1.3 Review of risk control measures includes a provision that the employer must review any 'risk control measures' in place in the workplace after receiving a request from an OHS Representative. In addition, the employer has a duty to consult on measures taken to eliminate or control a risk, and Regulation 2.1.5 sets out how to involve OHS Representatives in this consultation.
You can access these sections of the the regulations (as well as a summary) by going to the Regulations page.
Employers have a duty to prevent overuse injuries by eliminating repetitive tasks and awkward working positions, ensuring that work stations and equipment are suitable for the tasks and do not cause injuries or pain, providing sufficient staff and resources for the job and for proper rest breaks and ensuring that hours of work and work loads do not put workers under constant pressure. There is no excuse for overuse or work strain injuries.
Workers can act together to prevent work strain and overuse injuries. Workers, delegates and health and safety reps can:
- identify any overuse symptoms that people are suffering
- identify which parts of the job are causing the most common overuse injuries and pain, and how and why
- work out solutions, with both short and long term time lines
- put pressure on the employer or management to take action
- hold regular health and safety meetings with members to monitor progress
- involve all workers, including casuals, part timers and contract or agency workers
If the employer is unwilling to listen or to make improvements, it may be necessary to use other methods, for example:
- Issuing a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN),
- Calling in a union official (under s58(f) if you're an HSR or calling in an ARREO who has a right of entry permit issued under Part 8 of the OHS Act) or
- Calling in a WorkSafe Inspector - ring WorkSafe's Advisory Line on 03 9641 1444 or 1800 136 089
Victorian Unions are also highlighting the need for uniform laws throughout Australia that are of the highest possible standard.
Read more on Overuse injuries, or RSI in the Strains and Sprains section of the website.
Acknowledgements: UK RSI Association - and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW)
Last amended July 2013