Business of Medicine
Preventing Repetitive Motion Injuries at Computer Workstations
Repetitive motions on the job can cause strains and other injuries to the musculoskeletal system. Appropriate controls can prevent these problems by using devices and techniques that are more in line with how a worker’s body naturally moves.
Injuries from repetitive motion can come in many different forms including forceful heavy lifting, frequent pushing or pulling of objects, and prolonged awkward positions.
For strain injuries resulting from doing the same type of work for prolonged periods of time, encouraging breaks can be the best preventive measure. Employees who spend most of their day in front of a computer should follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes employees should stop their work and look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. In addition, all employees involved in any sort of prolonged exposure to one task should take a break every two hours and perform the following exercises:
- Head and neck stretch: Slowly turn your head to the left, and hold it for three seconds. Slowly turn your head to the right, and hold it for three seconds. Drop your chin gently toward your chest, and then tilt it back as far as you can. Repeat these steps five to ten times.
- Shoulder roll: Roll your shoulders forward and then backward using a circular motion.
- Upper back stretch: Grasp one arm below the elbow and pull gently towards the other shoulder. Hold this position for five seconds and then repeat with the other arm.
- Wrist wave: With your arms extended in front of you, raise and lower your hands several times.
- Finger stretch: Make fists with your hands and hold tight for one second, then spread your fingers wide for five seconds.
The placement and arrangement of equipment around the office can also reduce repetitive motion strains and injuries. The following workstation measures can prevent long-term exposure to awkward positions and reduce repetitive strain overtime:
- Employees should avoid reaching more than 18 inches for work items by keeping frequently used items within easy reach. Place input devices close to the keyboard and within comfortable reach with the arm close to the body and the wrist neutral. Ensure there is sufficient space on the desk to prevent having to reach.
- Using minimum effective force to operate the holepunch, stapler and similar equipment reduce strain. Use the minimum force necessary to strike the keyboard.
- Maintain space below the desk to permit changes to the user's posture to prevent holding an awkward posture to perform the job or an awkward sitting position.
- Chairs should be padded, stable, and mobile, should swivel, and allow operator movement. Adjust the backrest of chairs vertically so that it supports/fits the curvature of your lower back.
- Sharp desk edges can create contact stress on wrists. Padding or rounded desk edges can mitigate the impact. The support will also allow you to type without bending your wrists.
- Place monitors directly in front of the user, between 20 and 40 inches away. The top of the monitor should be at or below eye level, with the center of the monitor around 15 to 20 degrees below horizontal eye level.
- The keyboard needs to be easily accessible and comfortable; it should align with the user's posture. Adjust keyboard height to allow fingers to rest on the home row when the arm is to the side, elbow between 80 and 120 degrees, and the wrist straight. An alternative keyboard is likely to reduce awkward wrist posture.
- If standing for prolonged periods, stand with the torso upright to permit standing with the natural curve of the spine in a comfortable position.
As an employer, you can help your employees achieve these safety measures by:
- Assessing employees’ workstations including their chair, keyboard, monitor, and general work area to ensure compliance with the recommendations above.
- If needed, providing new equipment such as chairs with adjustable height and back, wrist pads, and alternative keyboards, which can have a large impact over time.
- Finally, addressing employee complaints in a timely manner and providing them with the resources that they need will reduce the severity of repetitive motion strains in the long run.
Ultimately, micro-breaks and ergonomically well-designed workstations can have a dramatic impact on worker comfort by allowing employees to perform their tasks without strain while better maintaining their overall health and well-being.
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The information provided in this resource does not constitute legal, medical or any other professional advice, nor does it establish a standard of care. This resource has been created as an aid to you in your practice. The ultimate decision on how to use the information provided rests solely with you, the PolicyOwner.