Repetitive strain injury (RSI), sometimes referred to as upper limb disorder, is a general term used to describe a potentially debilitating condition involving pain in muscles, nerves and tendons in the hands, wrists and arms. It is caused by overusing the hands to perform a repetitive movement, such as working on an assembly line or at a supermarket checkout, doing plastering work or working in a bakery. It is also common amongst office workers who perform tasks such as writing, typing and clicking a mouse without sufficient rest breaks.
A recent personal injury case serves as a warning to employers and employees of the danger of ignoring the risk of injury to workers who perform such repetitive tasks.
The case was brought by a 31-year-old woman who developed RSI as a result of excessive time spent using a computer at work.
The woman worked as a charity administrator. Her job involved taking handwritten notes at meetings then typing them up on a computer. She also arranged various meetings using email. It was not unusual for her to spend a large part of her day typing and, as the volume of her work increased, she began working through her lunch break as well as working overtime at the end of her shift.
The computers in use at the charity's office had been fitted with RSI software that measures keyboard use. Used properly, this is designed to ensure users take regular rest breaks. However, members of staff were instructed to turn the software off so that they could get more work done.
The woman went to her GP on account of pain in her hands and wrists that made it difficult for her to carry out her job. Her doctor confirmed that she had developed RSI and she had to take three months off work to rest her joints. She then attempted a phased return to work, but the pain continued and she was again forced to take sick leave. When her condition failed to improve, she was made redundant.
She then brought a personal injury claim against her former employer and achieved a settlement of £30,000 in compensation for her injuries.
Employers have a duty to assess the risks involved in all jobs that may cause harm and to reduce the risks. A sample risk assessment for jobs that could cause RSI or work-related upper limb disorders, as well as further information and guidance on this subject, can be found on the Health and Safety Executive website.