RSI Action is a UK charity working to facilitate the prevention of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injuries) conditions and for the relief of sickness, hardship and distress amongst those suffering with RSI.
The RSI Action annual conference was held in London on 1st March 2008. It opened with some stark statistics: in the UK 30.7 million days are lost to illness every year and of those 3.5 million are categorised as upper limb disorders. RSI and upper limb disorders are different terms that cover roughly the same set of symptoms. People can and do argue about the differences but however we cut the statistics we can say that about 10% of sick days are connected to RSI. If businesses could reduce that number then would reap a considerable financial benefit from:
- The increased number of productive days. Besides the actual days of sick we should add many days before and after the sickness when the employee is less than fully productive.
- The reduced management time involved in coping with the effects, direct and indirect, of the absences.
- The extra cost of health care provision.
- The cost of successful damages claims by employees.
- The cost of legal proceeding relating to all claims for damages.
BP and GlaxoSmithKline presented on how they are dealing with RSI. In both cases they have set up projects to increase the awareness of their employees and management of the potential problems and the generally simple actions that can be taken to reduce the risk.
BP have produced a DVD; the first part shows a number of employees who have suffered from RSI describing the impact of RSI on their careers and the reasons why they fell ill. It is a very powerful message to employees and management of the potential dangers. The second half of the DVD gives practical advice on ergonomics of the work place and good work practices (such as rest periods) that can greatly reduce the risk of RSI. It is important to realise that most of the changes identified do not cost money to implement—just an understanding of the issues.
The GSK project gathered relevant statistics which showed that upper limb disorders were the second largest contributor to sick days, the largest being mental health issues, this is not dissimilar to national statistics. GSK then used these statistics as part of presentations provided to individual departments to raise awareness. After just one year they saw a significant reduction in sick days related to upper limb disorders.
So the first bit of good news from the conference was that the risk of RSI could be reduced by some low cost initiatives by employers. Anyone reading this article should persuade their company to follow suit.
Suparna Damany, from the USA, is the author of ‘It's not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome!’ and runs a clinic for RSI suffers. She spoke about the multi-faceted causes of RSI and the danger of positive feed-back loops that can turn a minor problem into a debilitating condition. She explained that her clinic used a variety of techniques to alleviate the various causes, normally starting with deep massage. She stated that treatment typically takes between three and six months, which gives an indication of the impact RSI can have. Her clinic is effective but not cheap and many people who cannot afford the treatment find that the illness lasts much longer if not indefinitely.
So the second bit of good news is that the illness may be cured within six months.
The bad news from the conference is that for various reasons RSI is not always recognised as an illness by the medical profession or the governmental authorities. So not enough effort is going into research, prevention or cure.
My recommendation to businesses and other organisations is that they should recognise the seriousness of the issue and the financial and moral benefits that can be gleaned from a small investment in awareness raising. The upside is significant and the downside is negligible.