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Ergonomics: A Painful Topic?

Ergonomics -- a word we didn't know we needed to know, ten years ago -- became the center of a debate in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month. In a close vote, the House defeated a Republican-led effort to prohibit the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) from developing ergonomic standards to help protect workers from repetitive stress injury (RSI).

The vote killed an amendment to HR 3755, a huge funding bill covering the Departments of Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, and other federal agencies. Proponents of the amendment feared that allowing OSHA to study RSI could result in potentially costly recommendations to businesses and other organizations. The amendment's opponents, including OSHA officials, argued that to ignore repetitive stress injury is to ignore the fastest-growing occupational hazard of the 1990s and to risk higher costs measured in terms of medical expenses and disabilities.

OSHA has already begun studies of RSI and related syndromes, and hopes to formulate a set of guidelines for companies, governmental institutions, and other employers.

Not Just a Tingling in the Wrist

Carpal tunnel
For many longtime computer users, RSI is a topic that needs no introduction. Carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects the hand and wrist; thoracic outlet syndrome, which affects the shoulder and arm; and lateral epicondylitis, or "tennis elbow" and other syndromes affecting the elbow -- these are only three specific conditions that can result from repetitive stress injury. The symptoms generally start out as a small annoyance, but if not treated, over time they can lead to serious, chronic conditions and even physical disabilities.

Not just mouse and keyboard. And it's not only computer users who risk RSI. OSHA estimates that between 800,000 and 2.7 million American cases of RSI occur each year. Assembly-line workers, truck drivers, highway flag carriers, and especially anyone engaged in repeated lifting are as likely as computer users to come down with one or another of the syndromes. Seamstresses and violinists can be at risk. In short, anyone whose work -- or even hobby -- requires repeating the same physical motion over and over again.

Online Resources

Please be aware that all health- and medically-related materials appearing on the World Wide Web should be consulted for informational purposes only. You should not construe them as medical advice. For any judgments about your own medical condition or any type of medical treatment, you should rely only on qualified health professionals who examine you in person.

Keeping that caveat in mind, there are some excellent online resources to help you educate yourself about RSI and related syndromes. Note that RSI (known sometimes as repetitive stress injury, and sometimes repetitive strain injury) is also frequently known as cumulative trauma disorder, or CTD.

Magellan Logo
The Magellan Internet Guide recommends the following sites:

Typing Injury FAQ
Advanced Ergonomics, Inc.
Computer Related Repetitive Strain Injury
Newsgroup on job-related health problems

Other Sites. You might also want to check out these additional sites:

Cumulative Stress Disorder
CTD News Online
Workplace Safety Industry News
Exercises that may help

For pointers to more resources on health and medicine, rely on the McKinley Internet Yellow Pages and the McKinley Magellan Internet Guide.

Posted July, 1996.
© Copyright 1996 OBS