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RSI Handbook: What you can do to prevent injuries and illnesses

The first step in preventing RSIs is to take a hard look at your workplace and the way you do your job. You may be able to make changes in the physical set-up of your workstation or the position of your body as you do your work, or both. The following are some suggestions for how to protect yourself.

Avoid Awkward and Static Postures

A neutral body position is the most comfortable working posture. That's when your shoulders are down and relaxed, your arms are close to your sides, your elbows are bent, and your wrists and hands are straight. When your posture is "out of neutral" you increase the stress on your joints, muscles, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels.

If you work bent over, leaning forward, or with your arms above shoulder height, you're probably keeping your body in one position for a while. These "static" work activities are very tiring and stress the lower back and shoulders.

    *     Move around and change your posture often. Take a "micro" break. Try to split up your work. If you have been bending or kneeling, switch to something else to rest your back and knees
    * Use the right tool for the job. This can reduce awkward postures. For example, extension poles can be used for cleaning or painting tools so that custodians don't have to reach so far overhead.
    * Organize the work space so that there is enough room to move around and change body position.

Avoid Standing for Long Periods of Time

Standing in one position can also put stress on your spine and back muscles. Back and muscle stress on standing jobs can be reduced by the use of:

    * Rubber or plastic anti-fatigue mats.
    * Foot rests, to allow you to shift your weight often.
    * A "sit/stand" stool -- and the opportunity to change positions or move around.
    * Rotation to another job.

Avoid Bending, Twisting, and Reaching

    * Tables, chairs, and countertops should be designed to eliminate frequent bending and extended bending and leaning. Design work tables or counters so that materials are within easy reach.
    *Keep arms and elbows low and close to your body.
    * Reach without stretching and straining.
    * Keep reaches below shoulder level.
    * Avoid stacking materials above shoulder height.
    * Keep your elbows at the height of the work counter.
    * Support your forearms with armrests or other padded surfaces.
    * Have enough room in work area to use your arms while keeping your wrists straight.

Be Careful How You Lift

Lifting stresses your muscles, tendons, ligaments and spine. The key to proper lifting is to keep the back in its natural position. Here are some steps that will help prevent back injuries:

    * Squat lifts put less stress on your back, but only if you can fit the object between your knees. The best solution is to reduce the size and weight of the load.
    * Never pick up a load unless . . .
        Both feet are firmly on the ground.
        The load is no higher than your shoulders.
    * Stand close to load with feet apart. Minimize long reaches. The closer the load to the body, the less pressure it puts on your back.
    * Face load directly. Do not twist your shoulders to reach the load
    * When gripping the load, arch your lower back inward by pulling shoulders back and sticking out your chest. Avoid fast, jerky movements.

Another part of lifting is carrying. The best posture for carrying a load is closest to normal standing:

    * Hold the load as close to your body as possible. Objects should have handles or hand-holds.
    * Keep your elbows touching against your sides.
    * Keep the weight of the load evenly balanced.
    * When setting the load down, bend at your knees, keeping your lower back arched.

Reduce the amount of lifting you do:

    * Let mechanical devices do the lifting. Use forklifts, jacks, cranes, and carts to lift or carry heavy loads.
    * Lift lighter loads. Lift with a buddy. Careful planning and improved layout can help to reduce the amount of carrying and climbing needed and reduce the distance that loads need to be carried.

Reduce the Amount of Force You Use

The more force you use, the more you stress your body and the more you risk fatigue and injury.

Forceful movements such as pushing, pulling, tugging, and sliding objects put strain on your lower back. They also stress the muscles, tendons, and joints of your shoulders, arms, upper back, and legs. Use dollies, carts, hand trucks, or bins on wheels designed for pushing instead of pulling. Pulling, which stresses your shoulders and arms, is worse for your body than pushing. When you push, you use your own body weight to advantage.

If you're in an awkward posture while pushing or pulling, you need to use more force to move the object. High friction between the object and the surface also increases the force you use.

Pushing or pulling an object above shoulder height or below waist height requires a lot of force because the posture is so awkward.

The amount of force you apply also can be affected by:

    * The type of grip you use. Gripping with your fingers (pinch grip) is tiring A fullhand power grip uses the larger muscles of your arm and requires less muscle effort.
    * The position of your hands and arms. If your wrists are bent down, backward or to one side, you will need to use more force to do your work.
    * Cold, slippery handles and gloves. A slippery handle or one with a small diameter is hard to hold, so you tend to grip it more tightly. You also use more force when your hands or fingers are cold. Gloves which are too tight or too loose make you grip more tightly.
    * The length of time you keep your body in one position.
    * The amount of rest your muscles get. If you're tired, you use more force to get your work done.

Design Computer Workstations to Fit The User

Workstations must consider a worker's ability to comfortably see and handle the work. Chairs with adjustable features and proper back support are essential to prevent injury and improve overall comfort and work performance. It's important that "adjustable" chairs are easily adjusted -- by the workers themselves. If someone else has to do the adjustment -- like a mechanic or supervisor -- then the chair will probably cause injuries, not prevent them.

Chair height

Differences in seat height can affect the whole body.

INSIST ON AN ADJUSTABLE CHAIR: Chairs with adjustable features and proper back support are essential to prevent injury.
 insist on an adjustible chair

If a chair is too high, it can

    * Press thighs against table
    * Press seat against back of the thigh
    * Reduce blood to the feet
    * Make wrists bend up
    * Force head to lean forward and look down

If the chair is too low, it can

    * Raise knees higher than hips and create balance problems
    * Raise elbows away from the body
    * Make wrists bend to the side

A good chair should have . . .

    * Adjustable seat heights (between 16" and 21")
    * A backrest that is adjustable up/down and forward/backward to help support the lower back
    * Cushioned/contoured seats (15"-17" long and 16"-19" wide) that are padded but firm
    * A five-foot base for maximum stability.
    * Depending on the job, swivel seats that allow workers to turn their whole bodies and reduce twisting of the back

Avoid Repetitive Work

Every time a muscle works -- contracts and relaxes -- the tendons are stretched. Repeated stretching and pulling can cause the tendon to swell and get sore. If the tendons and muscles don't get enough time for rest and recovery, the risk of injury is increased.

Repetitive work can also damage nerves and blood vessels if they are squeezed against a hard tool handle or against muscle or bone.

Repeated stresses on your back can speed up normal wear and tear.

As your muscles get tired from doing the same motion over and over, you exert more effort to do the job.

One way to prevent your muscles from getting tired is to rest the muscles doing most of the work .A "micro" break, in which you use different muscles or pause for even a few seconds, can help. This relieves your muscles more effectively than uninterrupted periods of work with only one or two longer rest breaks.

Choose and Use Tools Carefully

    * Use tools or implements that allow you to keep your wrist straight. Consider the requirements of the job as well as the tool. A tool that allows you to keep your wrist straight to do one task may force you to bend your wrist under different conditions. Tools with bent handles can help you keep your wrist straight. Swivels at the connection of a tool and power hose make it easier to manipulate the tool instead of your wrist.
    * Use well-balanced tools. Support handles allow you to support the weight with both hands.
    * Make sure handles and grips are the right size, shape, and material. Use tools with strip triggers and compressible covering. Handles and grips should be oval or round. You should be able to wrap your hand around the handle in a power grip. Handles must be long enough for your hand and all your fingers.

Try to avoid tools that:

    * Make you bend or twist your wrist.
    * Are heavy and/or unbalanced.
    * Vibrate. Long-term use of vibrating tools can damage the blood vessels and nerves in your hands and fingers. The risk of injury is increased if you are also exposed to cold.
    * Dig into the palm of your hand or the sides of your fingers. Sharp edges or tools that press into the soft tissues of your hand can compress blood vessels and nerves. Compressed blood vessels reduce the supply of blood reaching the tissues. Squeezed nerves can cause numbness and tingling.
    * Need a lot of trigger pressure.
    * Need repetitive triggering and use only one trigger finger.
    * Have finger grooves on the handle.
    * Blow cold exhaust air onto your hands.

Keep Workplace Conditions in Mind

    * Good planning, improved work layout, and better work organization can reduce obstacles and slip/trip hazards. Proper storage can reduce the need to lift, move, or reach around objects later on.
    * Planks, sand, gravel, and walkways can be used to reduce the hazards of mud and slippery surfaces for ESP working outside.
    * In cold weather, warm-up exercises may help reduce the risk of muscle strain.
    * When it's hot, heavy physical work can quickly lead to fatigue. Set a comfortable work pace. Short exertions with frequent "micro" breaks is better than extended work periods with fewer but longer rests. Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
    * If practical and safe, fans and heaters can be used to moderate extremes in temperature.
    * Be aware of your own level of fitness. The closer the match between your strength and fitness and the physical demands of your job, the better you'll feel. But strength and fitness cannot protect your spine from the cumulative traumas of lifting and other risk factors.

 


RELATED LINKS

  • anc_dyn_linksRepetitive Stress Injury Handbook: Introduction
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: What are RSIs?
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: Types of RSIs
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: What you can do to prevent injuries and illnesses
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: Job risks
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: Health and Safety Committees
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: Your legal rights
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: Resources
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: Glossary