Originally written and published in 1997, this article and the tips about creating a safe computer-aided-design (CAD) environment are even more applicable today when almost every office worker is just as heavy a computer user as CAD users in the 90’s. All updates to to article are in blue, but otherwise the original 3-part article is reprinted in its entirety.

Rising cases of cumulative trauma disorders (CTD) or repetitive stress injuries (RSI), in office environments have the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concerned, along with many employers. According to OSHA, CTDs account for two-thirds of all workplace injuries and illnesses reported, with 31+ days of work loss time. CAD-based offices are three times the national average for repetitive motion injuries. The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics and NCCI Research, repetitive stress injuries are costing $20 billion per year in worker’s compensation claims and overall costs employers $80 billion per year in actual costs and loss work time.

RSIs are cause by repetitive movements that are done awkwardly or forcefully without sufficient recovery time. Typical movements are gripping, twisting and reaching beyond what is comfortable. Some common names for specific RSI injuries are tendonitis, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and even De Quervain’s injuries cropping up from texting, swiping and heavy mouse or track-pad use. Although these injuries can be caused by leisure activities as well, the rising cases are appearing from office workers due to the growing number of computers in office environments. The average computer user rarely takes breaks and frequently overworks contributing significantly to the risk for RSI development. RSIs can cause irreversible nerve damage if persistent pain develops while performing, so medical advice should be sought immediately.

Your own health and work style addresses the most significant impact on health and safety in the workplace. Certain illnesses, such as arthritis and diabetes may predispose you to RSIs. Also, if your after-hours activities mirror your work activities, you are substantially increasing your own risks. If you are a late night Net Surfer, or enjoy leisure activities such as golf, tennis, needlepoint, sewing or knitting, you are adding cumulatively to your exposure. Aside from giving up these enjoyable activities, some risk can be minimized by instilling certain behaviors into the work environment and into the nature of the work itself.

Checklist for a Healthier Work Style

  • Take frequent breaks, get up and move.
  • Place the screen or monitor with the top of the screen at or below eye level.
  • For long use sessions, hook your laptop to an external monitor and keyboard.
  • Adjust your chair height so feet are flat on the floor.
  • Use chair armrests to take the burden off shoulders and upper arms.
  • Position keyboard and mouse at the same height as elbows, which should be bent at a right angle.
  • Wrists should be straight or tilted slightly upward. Use soft padded wrist rests to alleviate pressure.
  • Press the keys and mouse buttons lightly – adjust the sensitivity settings in the computer system preferences.
  • If using a pen and tablet, loosen your grip on the pen and press lightly. Stop and flex fingers frequently.
  • Hold Tablets and eBook readers lightly without gripping, pinching or holding too much weight. Use a case stand if possible.

Although not an official RSI, eyestrain is also a significant concern for most computer users, especially because the damage to eyesight can be irreversible. Position the screen to minimize glare from outside or overhead lights. Clean the screen and adjust the brightness and contrast to prevent squinting. Purchase a screen protector with a matte finish for tablets or other handheld devices.

Remember prevention is less costly and less painful than the cure!

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