Pain leads to gain in OOS battle

Years of suffering from occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) has led a Christchurch man to develop software to help stop the painful ailment afflicting others.

Years of suffering from occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) has led a Christchurch man to develop software to help stop the painful ailment afflicting others.

The latest version of Dr Kevin Taylor's Workpace software monitors how people use their keyboards, so companies and assess which staff are most at risk. It can also shut down PCs system so workers take the necessary breaks to avoid OOS.

Taylor suffered severe symptoms of OOS in the early 1990s while studying for a PhD at Canterbury University. He was subsequently forced on to a sickness benefit for 18 months. Taylor researched the ailment, also known as repetive strain injury (RSI), and began developing the software.

With fellow Canterbury engineering student Dr Robert van Nobelen, Taylor developed Workpace software in 1995 and the pair launched their company Niche Software two years later.

Since then, Workpace has been exported around the world and is used by 100,000 PC users, including 20,000 in New Zealand. Users include Ericsson, EDI, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, ING Bank Netherlands, Coca-Cola and the Department of Work and Income in Wellington.

And as health and safety laws are tightened the world over, more onus is being put on employers in ensuring staff work practices are safe. If they don't, firms are increasingly at risk from legal action. OOS is also costly in terms of lost production.

With growing global demand, the company expects to triple its $1.5 million annual revenues over the coming year.

"The system monitors keyboard and mouse use," says Taylor. "When you've worked a certain amount of time of being working intensely enough, the software will give you prompts to take a micro-pause or rest. It's like a little guy looking after you to ensure you don't overdo things," he says.

The latest version of the software can monitor and analyse how employees use their computers. By finding who is at most risk, the company can issue warnings, tell the person to take breaks and help protect the worker from problems and themselves from litigation.

UK reports say OOS is the biggest cause of illness in the workplace today and firms face an avalance of claims against them. ACC, says Taylor, estimates four-fifths of claims are for computer-related injuries.

Department of Work and Income health and safety officer Antonio Patelesio says agency staff have used Workpace for up to four years. Their system forces people to take breaks after a series of warnings and he looks forward to using the latest version.

Though DWI has no direct evidence of the software working, Patelesio says there is anecdotal evidence that it does.

"The bottom line is we have had a reduction in the number of OOS and gradual process cases in the department," he says.

OOS-fighting software has also been developed by Peak Technology of Wellington. The directors too claim worldwide sales for their Kairos product.

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