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Repetitive Stress Injury Handbook: Introduction

Do you . . .

  • Sit at a desk in front of a computer all day?
  • Drive a bus or operate heavy equipment?
  • Stretch your arms or twist your back to reach your work
  • Lift or carry materials?
  • Spend most of the day on your feet?
  • Use hand tools?
  • Repeat the same motions over and over?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, your work may be harming you. Education support professionals can suffer from hand and wrist disorders, back and neck injuries, and muscle strains due to repetitive motions or awkward work positions. Poorly designed equipment and chairs, forceful exertions, improper lifting and reaching, or vibrating hand tools increase the chances of injury to wrists, arms, back, or shoulders. Doing the same motions over and over, hour after hour, week after week, can make these problems even worse.

It's now common knowledge that these problems are a result of repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), also known as cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs). Certain work activities that you do every day can cause tiny injuries to your shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, fingers, knees, or back. Each trauma alone is so small that you don't know it is happening . . . until all the small injuries add up and you're in pain. RSIs may take weeks, months, or even years to develop. That's why what you do now is important to your health and your ability to work in the future.

LOOK AT THE WHOLE PICTURE: Designing a safe workplace involves taking multiple factors into account.

The good news is, most of these disorders are preventable. Ergonomics -- the study of the relationship between work and the worker -- can be used to make your work fit your body instead of the other way around.

When you get in a car, you adjust the seat, mirrors, and steering wheel to drive comfortably and safely. In the same way, your workstation may also take some adjusting to "fit" you. If you work in a seated position, you may need to raise or lower your chair. Computer operators usually are able to adjust the height of their keyboard, and the angles of their monitor and keyboard as well.

If you work in a standing position, you can use anti-fatigue mats, change your posture periodically, or alternately rest one foot on a wooden or concrete block to relieve the pressure of constantly standing.

Tools, supplies, and parts can be moved closer to you to avoid long reaches. Trays, cleaning supplies, and other materials can often be raised up off the floor to avoid stooping and bending. Hand tools can be modified to avoid awkward arm or hand positions.

In many cases the problem isn't the job you're doing or the tool you're using but how you're doing or using it. Overhead reaches, lots of lifting and bending, wrist rotations -- the things that you usually do without thinking can create a problem. The motion itself may be harmless, but when you do it many times a day, you can hurt yourself.

Poorly designed or maintained work environments together with a poorly designed job or workstation can increase the likelihood of repetitive stress injuries or other adverse health effects. Environmental factors such as heat or cold, lack of ventilation, noise, vibration, too much or too little light can worsen ergonomic problems.

This handbook is designed to help you recognize workplace stress and hazards and the methods that can be used to correct them. Acting alone, with your co-workers, and with your association representatives, you can apply ergonomics in your workplace. You can customize your job, tools, and workstation, even the way you do your job, to some degree. However, your employer will still have to approve purchases of new equipment or tools, and will usually want to approve any changes in work methods or organization.

It's the employer's responsibility to make changes in the workplace that will protect your health and safety. This handbook should help you make the case that the changes are necessary.

Download this entire 38-page publication in a PDF version 


  • 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