Study Says Computer Workers at Risk for Stress Injuries

A national study shows a computer work force of 18 million Americans at significant risk from RSIs including carpal tunnel syndrome and lower back injuries.

A national study shows a computer work force of 18 million Americans at significant risk from repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), including carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and lower back injuries.

The survey, conducted by Office Organix, identified four common workplace risk categories: poor workstation layout, inadequate office equipment, unhealthy postural habits, and lower worker expectations about office comfort.

Conducted over a 24-month period, the study showed that despite significant press given to OSHA proposed requirements, the work force is ill equipped and at risk.

"Stress injuries cost real dollars; the personal pain is real and lost productivity is real," said Office Organix President Michael Grossman.

Poor workstation setup heads the list of safety problems discovered.

Fifty-one percent place keyboards too high contributing to neck, shoulder, and wrist stress, leading to CTS causes.

The monitor is placed too high in 65 percent of workers, contributing to neck and shoulder stress and 47.8 cradle the phone between the head and shoulder during phone calls instead of using a headset.

Excessively bright, high-glare offices were another frequent finding. Fifty-three percent experience monitor glare from office lights, sunlight or window glare.

Especially dangerous over time, 51.2 percent of respondents report when keyboarding they support the upper body by resting on their wrists.

"A real red flag is that 59.8 percent suffer from wrist pain during computer work. However, the good news is that this is down slightly from the 62.6 percent reported in the 1998 study," said Grossman.

The cost to business from CTS absenteeism alone frequently exceeds $50,000 per employee when wrist surgery is required.

"The surgery is ineffective in about one-fifth of the cases," said Grossman.

In addition, Grossman pointed out that there are also hidden costs -- for example when a valuable employee must be moved to a less keyboard intensive job and a new employee found and trained to replace him or her.

"The key issue is that much of the costs absolutely could be avoided with simple changes in equipment placement and employee involvement in ergonomics," said Grossman. "This is a classic case of an ounce of prevention."

Office Organix provides free interactive office setup and posture tips at its Web site www. officeorganix.com.

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