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Today is RSI awareness day

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Today is International RSI (repetitive strain injury) Awareness Day (28 February). The last day of February was chosen, excruciatingly, because it is the only day that doesn’t repeat every year (sometimes it’s 28 February, sometimes 29). The day is used as a focus for activity by the RSI Association, and this year the Health and Safety Executive and Minister Alan Whitehead MP is issuing revised guidance on how to prevent RSI, and is publishing an updated report on upper limb disorders.

An estimated 4.2 million working days are lost in Britain each year due to about half a million upper limb or neck disorder sufferers, with each employee taking an average of 13 days off work, costing employers at least £200 million. However, it is believed that these figures do not reflect the effect that these conditions, which can affect the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves or other soft tissues and joints, can sometimes have on individuals and their families. In the past, many people with RSI have been forced to give up their jobs.

The HSE guidance sets out a management approach designed to allow employees to reduce both the risk and impact of ULDs (upper limb disorders) in their workplace. The stages of this approach are to:
– understand the issues, such as what these conditions are and how they arise, and commit to action
– create the right organisational environment to tackle them and involve their employees
– assess the risk of ULDs in their workplaces;
– reduce the risk of ULDs, for example by: redesigning workstations and equipment, rotating or automating tasks, modify the environment and the work routine, educate and inform their employees
– manage any incidents that have not been prevented
– carry out regular checks to see if what they are doing is working.
The types of workers more likely to suffer from upper limb disorders include: keyboard users, pottery workers, meat processors and food pickers, assembly line workers, machinists and clothes makers, construction workers, cleaning and domestic staff.

Launching the guidance at a conference at TUC headquarters today, Dr Alan Whitehead, the Minister for Health and Safety, said: “These conditions are not trivial, or the inevitable consequences of working life; they are as unacceptable today as the old industrial diseases were in the past. I welcome today’s Guidance on ULDs as offering hope to the thousands of sufferers, their families and employers, and providing a fresh approach to managing this painful and debilitating disorder”.

HSE’s Elizabeth Gyngell, head of the programme, said: “It is much better for business if employers to get treatment for their employees and help them return to work, than it is to replace them. We have to recognise that not all upper limb disorders will be prevented so it is essential that employers manage cases appropriately. This new guidance sets out how this can be done.”

The TUC is issuing detailed guidance for 200,000 union safety reps, and is urging them to use their legal powers to inspect their workplace for the risks of RSI. And a new site for the RSI Association is also launched today.

New figures from the TUC suggest that one in fifty workers (506,000) is suffering from the symptoms of RSI, which include pain and immobility in the joints, nerves and muscles from the fingers to the neck. Last year 5.4 million days were lost in sick leave due to RSI, and every day, six workers left their jobs forever because of RSI, even though if caught early enough it can be treated by changing the way work and workplaces are arranged, or by physiotherapy. About a third of workers with RSI are under 45, and just over half (55% – 276,000) are women.

TUC General Secretary John Monks said: “RSI affects millions of people around the world, and half a million every year in Britain alone. It is entirely preventable, and easily curable if caught early. Union safety reps can now use the HSE’s risk filter to help managers get a grip on the risks of RSI, and prevent suffering, job loss and poverty for thousands of people. We want to see partnership in action, preventing RSI.”

The TUC guidance will highlight the main factors at work which cause RSI (repetitive work, working posture, use of force and vibration). Safety reps will be asked to inspect their workplace on International RSI Awareness Day, using a risk filter (available with the guidance). The TUC hopes that safety reps will be able to persuade managers to use the risk filter together, working in partnership. If they find significant risks, they will be advised to ask their management for a full risk assessment of the jobs most at risk to be carried out, with action taken to manage the risks identified.

There are some more useful resources on an RSI FAQs site. The organisations listed are largely American but the questions, answers, advice and articles are useful.

Research from Pertemps indicates that 9 out of ten employees don’t get any advice or guidance on RSI. How do you handle RSI issues in your workplace? Post your comments below.

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