NIOSH: Supplemental Rest Breaks Minimize Eye Strain For Data Entry Workers

A new study by a team of scientists from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) finds that workers who are allowed several short breaks during the day suffer less from the side effects of eyestrain than workers who are allowed standard breaks twice per day. The researchers were following up and expanding on previous research conducted in 2000, which demonstrate that frequent rest breaks minimize eye strain and discomfort among data-entry employees without negatively affecting their productivity.

Researchers from NIOSH followed 51 workers for 8 weeks. The workers received standard work breaks (two breaks per day, 15 minutes each) for half of the study and an additional four, 5-minute breaks each day for the other half.

After asking study participants about the levels of eye strain and discomfort they experienced during the the entire portion of the study, researchers found that:

Participants’ ratings of discomfort and eyestrain were significantly lower with supplemental breaks. The supplementary breaks also attenuated the accumulation of discomfort during work sessions.

Data-entry speed was significantly faster with supplementary breaks, so that work output was maintained even though 20 minutes of work were replaced by the supplementary breaks over the work day.

The study also attempted to gauge whether stretching exercises helped to reduce discomfort. No significant differences in discomfort were observed between employees instructed to perform stretching exercises and employees not instructed to perform stretching exercises as part of the study. However, employees in the exercise group skipped the exercises during most of their breaks.

NIOSH said it will incorporate the findings among other data in designing ongoing research for preventing work-related musculoskeletal injuries, and assessing potential interventions.

According to NIOSH Director John Howard, some observers have expressed concern that giving data entry workers supplemental breaks can reduce their productivity levels, but the new study proves that isn't necessarily the case.

“Some observers have suggested that supplementary breaks may alleviate risks for work-related repetitive stress injuries, while other observers have expressed concern as to whether such breaks may adversely affect productivity,” said Howard. “There exists a dearth of scientific data to help employers and employees weigh these questions. The new study helps to fill that gap and demonstrates that rest breaks can have a double benefit of reducing the risk of occupational injury while helping businesses maintain productivity.”

The study was published in the July 2007 issue of the peer-reviewed journal, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, and is available online at http://www2a.cdc.gov/nioshtic-2/BuildQyr.asp?s1=20032255&f1=%2A&Startyear=&Adv=0&terms=1&EndYear=&Limit=10000&sort=&D1=10&PageNo=1&RecNo=1&View=f.

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