Workstation Health and Fitness for RSI

Construction and manual workers can suffer from RSIPair of glasses or spectaclesComputer users are at risk from RSI

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is now a major industrial disease affecting millions of people around the world. RSI includes conditions such as carpel tunnel syndrome, tenosynovitis and tendinitis - often collectively referred to as upper limb disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), computer related injuries or cumulative trauma disorders, or CTD. Often the position of workstations and the design of the pc and accessories can affect how our health and safety.

1. Workstation Ergonomics

A well designed workstation is essential to maintaining good posture and reducing the risk of lower back pain and other computer related injuries.

2. Ergonomic Keyboards and Mice

There are quite a few ergonomically designed keyboards and mice available. The Microsoft Natural Keyboard is one example. This keyboard splits the keys into two panels - one for each hand, and angles each panel so that the hands sit naturally on the keyboard, rather than requiring them to be twisted into an unnatural position which is the case with normal keyboards. Many mice are now designed to fit neatly into either hand, and can often have a scrolling wheel, which can make scrolling through documents easier and less stressful than using scroll bars.

These ergonomic devices are generally more expensive than standard designs, but can be well worth the investment.

3. Ergonomic Use of Keyboards and Mice

The computer mouse was originally designed to make using a computer easier - it is much easier to point at a picture and click than to learn a relatively complicated series of keystrokes. However, research has shown that using a mouse is a significant cause of repetitive strain injury. Especially if the mouse is located at the same level and to the side of the keyboard - it's usual location. This requires extending your arm which introduces significant tensions and stresses in your arm, shoulder and neck.

The best position for your mouse is on a raised platform slightly above the numeric keypad on your computer. Also, if you reduce the speed of the mouse and the number of clicks you have to make you can greatly reduce the muscle tension in your arm and hand. Additionally, you can swap the primary and secondary mouse buttons (the left and right buttons), to change the mouse from being right handed to left handed. Using your left hand - or right hand if you are left handed - can take some getting used to, but can be very helpful if you are suffering from any aches and pains in one hand. Regularly alternating between left and right hands can also give your arms and hands a rest, thus minimizing the risk of developing any RSI condition. You can swap the mouse buttons using the Mouse applet in the Windows Control Panel - or directly from the Stress Buster context menu - with fewer mouse clicks and/or key strokes.

To reduce the mouse speed, open the Mouse applet in the Windows Control Panel, select the tab Pointer Options and move the pointer speed slider to the left to slow. Click OK.

To reduce the number of clicks you have to make, open the My Computer icon, then select Tools, Folder Options, and then under Click Items As Follows, choose Single-click to open an item.

If you can you should avoid using the mouse as much as possible. Most actions and commands can be carried out using keyboard shortcuts instead of the mouse. For example, to reduce the number of clicks you have to make with your mouse - as described above, you could use the following keyboard shortcuts:

  1. Press the button on your keyboard to open the Windows Start Menu.
  2. Use the arrow keys to select My Computer (or the alternative name you may have given to your computer), and then press Enter or Return. This will open an explorer window for your computer.
  3. Hold down the Alt key and press "T" to open the Tools menu, then press "O" to open Folder Options.
  4. In Folder Options, hold down the Alt key, and press "S". This will select the option Single-click to open an item.
  5. Press Enter or Return to close the Folder Options dialog.

Windows Help provides extensive help on using keyboard shortcuts with Windows. Individual applications such as Microsoft Office also have their own keyboard shortcuts - with the appropriate help. Learning keyboard shortcuts can take some time, but once learnt, using them tends to be faster than using the mouse, and avoids much of the discomfort associated with the mouse.

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