Control over work can reduce work-related injuries, RSIs

By Laura Cassiani
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/15/2001

New research on repetitive strain injuries and other work-related musculoskeletal disorders suggests that giving employees more of a say in choosing office equipment and giving them greater control over their work can reduce the number of work-related injuries.

A four-year research study of RSI and WMSD looked at more than 1,000 employees at The Toronto Star newspaper, including reporters and office-workers, and found that improving mutual understanding between rank-and-file and management is one way to reduce the number of work-related injuries. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are an aggregation of disorders of muscles, tendons and nerves which are caused or aggravated by work. More than half of the respondents in the study said they experienced some sort of pain in the upper limbs.

The study also found that the more psychologically demanding the work, the more likely workers are to suffer an RSI.

Donald Cole, senior scientist in the workplace studies at the Institute For Work and Health (IWH) and one of the authors of study, said the research also identified psycho-social factors that keep workers from reporting injuries to management. One of those factors included the work environment.

RSIs can be linked to “time organization of work.” Due to the organization of work in a newsroom — the greater dependence on others to complete work, reliance on technology and deadlines — employees are under a lot of pressure. Combined with the trend throughout industry towards reducing non-value added time, employees in the study reported feeling under pressure and did not take breaks because of it. But breaks, said Cole, are important time gaps because “they give some time for some needed recovery (from work).

“If breaks are going out as (employees) feel more pressure, it will have a negative impact on health,” said Cole.

Based on the research, study recommendations were geared at improving communication between management and front-line workers; developing a team-structure within the workplace; educating supervisors and managers on work-related injuries; establishing a system for receiving input from employees; and developing an ergonomics policy, with all stakeholders involved, including union representatives.

The Toronto Star has a policy in place where employees are asked to assess their workstations every two years in addition to an RSI committee, made up of union representatives and management, that meets to discuss issues surrounding work-related injuries.

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