What People With RSI Need From Employers

A “Can-Do” Approach

How RSI affects the Employee

What Can Happen?
When people first begin to experience symptoms due to RSI they are unsure of what is happening to them. The symptoms initially can be quite mild twinges with a bit of numbness or tingling. However as the condition develops the pain increases until it is with the person for 24 hours, leading to weeks on end of pain and disability, reality sets in, usually confirmed by doctor’s diagnosis.

During this time, difficulty occurs in carrying out workplace tasks, domestic tasks, any hand-orientated hobbies have to be given up (sport, crafts etc.). Being off work on long-term sickness absence results in reduced salary, financial worry and stress fear of job loss, leading to depression, which in turn exacerbates pain levels, and the downward spiral of ill health begins.

Taking Action
Employees have a responsibility to report their injury once they realise what is happening, record the pain in the accident book, and pursue accurate diagnosis and treatment. They must also ask for a risk assessment to be carried out at work, and plan their home life by obtaining help from friends and family, if possible, to reduce the strain on their hands and arms. RSI must not be ignored, you can’t wish it away, and you must get treatment and adjust your life to the condition.

The Employer
In the event of Repetitive Strain Injury symptoms being experienced, there are various strategies that need to be implemented. Reasons for ignoring RSI can include fear of disclosure and keeping the accident book “tidy”, seeking to avoid potential litigation, embarrassment and guilt at having caused someone to become ill, which affects the image of the company, annoyance and irritation because targets are not being met, thereby inviting criticism from a higher tier of management.

Acknowledge the Situation
We ask employers to be unafraid to admit there is a problem, as ignoring RSI does not make it go away but makes things worse. Evidence of good practice within the workplace could be a way of keeping down insurance premiums. Certainly frequent legal claims are one way of increasing insurance premiums.

Taking Action
Encourage workers to report pain and record it. Body mapping is a useful tool showing where pain and inflammation are occurring. Encouraging the worker to seek effective diagnosis and treatment, pursue a pain management programme, consider alternative therapies, is the way forward.

It is important to note that working over the pain can cause further damage, the more chronic the condition the longer it takes to make a recovery, therefore the correct balance must be found.

Conduct an effective risk assessment in consultation with the worker, looking at equipment, workload and stress. Just issuing a questionnaire to the worker is a useless exercise. The workstation needs to be observed and measurements taken, as well as posture being assessed, talking to the worker about any problems with equipment and posture, and about the volume of work expected to be undertaken.

Back to Work
When someone is on the road to recovery it can be conducive to their physical and mental state to embark on a gradual return to work, with shorter hours increasing gradually. This rehabilitative approach means that some of their work is being done, a valued and knowledgeable employee can be retained, and there is some financial benefit to both employer and employee. This may indicate a need for sickness absence policies to be rewritten, taking into account state benefits and salary payment.

Encourage “open channels” between worker, line manager, senior management, occupational health professionals, and human resources officer. Each one of these has an important role to play, together with a helpful and supportive attitude from colleagues.

If trades union membership is established within your organisation learn from trades union safety representatives. A unionised workplace is a healthy workplace, a healthy workplace saves money. Be aware of the dangers and educate yourself and your staff by encouraging a positive health and safety culture within the organisation.

Who Can Help
There are many organisations that are able to help in this day and age. The Department of Work and Pensions’ Disabilities Adviser can arrange for the provision of an ergonomic assessment and equipment, and funding to pay for a support worker to assist the injured person. A wealth of advice is available from the Health and Safety Executive, and various web sites on the Internet. RSI help-lines are for people with RSI, their families and also for employers.

Costs to the Employee
RSI and other long-term medical conditions can be an expensive business.

Costs to the employee include lost salary, medication and medical treatment expenses, and travel costs whilst obtaining treatment. In the event of a long-term illness people can lose their car, their home, and suffer breakdown of family relationships caused by the stress of their illness, leading to a downward spiral into poverty.

Costs to the Employer
Costs to the employer include lost salary, lost productivity via absence of a knowledgeable employee, additional salary costs for temporary employees, legal and medical specialist fees in the event of litigation, and increased insurance premiums caused by litigation.

Costs to Government
Costs to the Government, include loss of income tax and national insurance contributions, payout of various benefits, cost of medical treatment from the GP through to consultants at hospital, plus medication and therapy. There is also the cost of administrator’s salaries within the benefits system, Social Security Appeals Tribunal’s staff and medical specialists fees.
Repetitive strain injuries are preventable disabilities
This is why we must all work together and stop the spread of RSI

© 2011 RSI Action…

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