Preventing Occupational Overuse Syndrome Risks in Health and Safety
Occupational overuse syndrome is a term used to describe several overuse injuries. These injuries affect the soft tissues (muscles, nerves and tendons) of the neck, chest, lower and upper back, arms, shoulders and hands. It is also known as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).
These injuries normally start as aches and pains and progress into more serious disorders that can have a negative effect on a worker's ability to perform at work along with their personal quality of life. It is for this reason that it is an important workplace health and safety concern.
Occupational overuse syndrome is caused by repetitive movements or awkward postures. Tendons are overworked and inflamed by the repetitive manual tasks demanded by a particular job.
What Are Some Symptoms of Overuse Injuries?
Although Occupational overuse syndrome is typically associated with repetitive hand movements (e.g. typing), it can affect any part of the body.
Symptoms will vary from person to person, including the location of the injury and how severe the condition is. Some common symptoms are:
- Muscle weakness
- Restricted and reduced joint mobility
Symptoms cannot be ignored as they will get progressively worse. It will lead to the point where the pain in the muscles, joints and tendons are painful even at rest.
Professions at High Risk of Occupational Overuse Syndrome
Any profession which involves manual tasks that are repetitive and fast, or where the person is in a fixed or awkward posture for long periods of time, are at risk. Some examples of these professions are:
- Process workers - for example packing and assembly line
- Office workers - for example clerical and typing
- Piece Work - for example sewing
- Manual Work - for example carpentry and bricklaying
Risk Factors that cause Overuse Injuries
Workplace practices and the workplace design are main contributors to occupational overuse syndrome. The risk factors are:
- Tools, furniture and equipment that don't match with the body easily
- Workstations and benches that are too low, too high or too far
- Machinery that operates too fast for the worker's comfort
- Workplace design that requires repeated stretching, bending or twisting
- Tight deadlines that make workers skip breaks
- Repetitive manual work
How can we manage these risk factors?
These risk factors can be managed by making changes to the workplace design, changing work practices and adjusting existing equipment and furniture to suit the worker.
Changes to workplace design:
- Use of ergonomic furniture and equipment
- Change the workspace to ensure everything is within easy reach
- Ensure benches are at waist height so that shoulders are not tense and elbows can bend gently
Changes to work practices:
- Schedule frequent breaks
- Rotate tasks throughout the day so that repetitive movements are alternated with other types of work
- Set realistic deadlines
Adjust furniture to your body:
- Adjust height of seating
- Sit on a chair with lower back (lumbar) support
- Use a footrest
As we've learned, occupational overuse syndrome is caused by repetitive movements and its risk factors must be managed. It is an important concern for the health and safety of workers, and the dangers and prevention of such injuries should be provided through health and safety training courses such as in-house manual handling training programmes.