Young workers are more at risk from repetitive strain injury (RSI) than their older workmates, says the TUC today as it releases new figures and warns businesses that failure to act against the looming RSI epidemic could devastate the British economy and leave millions of youngsters in permanent pain.
In an article in the Spring issue of the TUC-supported health and safety magazine Hazards, published on Wednesday to coincide with International RSI Awareness Day, the TUC says that youngsters are more at risk on all four of the main factors known to cause RSI.
Having to carry out repetitive tasks at speed, needing to use a good deal of force when working, not being able to choose or change the order of monotonous tasks, and having to work in awkward positions are the key factors which experts agree make workers especially vulnerable to RSI. The new TUC figures show that workers aged 16-24 score the highest on every single count.
Although 65% of UK workers of all ages have jobs which involve a repetition of the same sequence of movements many times, a staggering 78% of younger workers do so; and whilst 60% of workers of all ages have to perform tasks very quickly, the figure for youngsters is 71%.
Over half the UK's four million workers aged 16-24 are forced to work in awkward or tiring positions (45% of the total workforce do so), 36% have to use appreciable force at work (compared to 28%) and 43% are unable to choose the order in which they carry out their various tasks (33%).
TUC General Secretary John Monks said: "These figures show that work can be far more of a pain for younger employees. Far too often employers are choosing to ignore the warning signs. They fail to assess the RSI risks in their companies, bring in large numbers of casual workers, and cut corners by providing poor quality workstations. Young workers are also often are unaware of their rights, are too scared to complain, and aren't union members, so have no trade union to stand up for them."
In the Hazards article, the TUC says that the workers in the Netherlands are much more aware of the link between RSI and prolonged bouts of keyboard and mouse work, because each PC sold there comes with a special health leaflet funded by the Dutch government.
To try to raise awareness of the risks of RSI in the UK, John Monks has today (Wednesday) written to the chief executives of all the main PC retailers in the UK, asking if they would be willing to issue a joint leaflet with the TUC on display screen safety which would be made available to all people buying computers.
John Monks added: "Computers will be at the heart of all jobs in the future. But if we continue to ignore the RSI risks faced by our young workforce, we are effectively writing off a whole generation. The thousands of young people at risk today may never again be able to use a keyboard and mouse, if this happens, we run the risk of writing off our economic tomorrow."
The TUC is urging union safety reps to keep a special eye out for younger workers, protecting those most at risk from RSI by:
- insisting that employers carry our a workplace risk assessment for RSI
- working with employers to identify the parts of jobs where the risk factors for RSI are present
- encouraging employees to take advantage of any available work breaks, and helping them to feel confident about taking screen breaks, without feeling they're skiving
- persuading employers to rotate the kinds of work young people do, and
- carrying out a body mapping exercise to find out where younger workers are suffering pain, and acting on the results, putting any symptoms in the work accident book.
The TUC is just one of many trade union organisations that will be taking part in a new worldwide union forum which aims to tackle employer and employee ignorance of RSI.