In previous posts, we discussed how workers and employers can help alleviate some of the office environment risks of developing cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) or repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) through work style and habits, and, the proper selection of furniture and equipment. With industries specializing and narrowing job descriptions for maximum productivity, there is little flexibility and break-up in the routine of a job for most workers.

Minimizing some of the repetition by designing the job around the worker, or allowing or forcing periodic breaks can keep your most productive workers from becoming part of the statistical loss of 31+ work days due to RSIs for U.S. businesses each year. Designing jobs with tasks that offer a variety of physical activity: standing, sitting and walking, not only help break up the routine physically, but allow much-needed mental relief as well. Allowing tasks to be performed intermittently rather than for hours at a time may seem counter-productive, but cumulatively they can make a big difference in overall health, which will in turn increase productivity.

As RSIs and CTDs are partly an injury of overwork, pay careful attention to your most productive employees and take note of how infrequent they break and how quickly they perform their tasks. OSHA will cite employers if there is a "feasible method by which the cited employer could have abated the recognized hazard." If you could easily change the order or routine of the job design and don't, you could be liable. So things to look for in job re-design:

  • Frequency of movement
  • Speed required
  • Repetitive movement of the fingers or thumb
  • Forceful action by the hand or fingers
  • Extreme bending up or down of the wrist
  • Circular twisting of the wrist
  • Pressure at the base of the palm or wrist
  • Pinching or gripping of equipment

Computer-aided design (CAD) workers (including coders) are at special risk due to the nature of the job, there there are still ways to modify the job, such as requiring frequent breaks, alternating keyboard and pen use or even trying a cross training job rotation for an hour two each day. Some simple low-cost ideas are: set corporate-wide regular calendar alarms every couple of hours to remind workers to get up and move; send a tip of the day in the late afternoon with a stretch or movement to inspire a routine change; schedule regular check-in/status meetings every couple of hours at the water cooler; or offer gift cards/discounts for massages as incentives.

Educate your workers to watch for signs of repetitive stress:

  • Numbness, burning or aching the hands or fingers
  • Weakness in the wrist or hand
  • Prickling sensations radiating up the inner forearm
  • Swelling of the tendons or around joints
  • Hands falling asleep, especially overnight
  • Tremors or shaking when holding small items
  • Difficulty performing simple small motor skills (like buttoning a shirt)

As with any injury, if persistent pain develops while performing any function, consult a doctor.