Ouch, say IT OOS victims

Over a third of respondents have experienced occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) in the latest Computerworld 1000 survey, despite nearly every company having an OOS policy. Injuries were consistently reported in the arms and shoulders, with wrist problems the most prevalent.

Over a third of respondents have experienced occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) in the latest Computerworld 1000 survey, despite nearly every company having an OOS policy.

Eleven of the 30 respondents reported OOS problems that were serious enough to warrant time off work in one form or another — from taking a couple of days off to being forced to work only part time. Injuries were consistently reported in the arms and shoulders, with wrist problems the most prevalent.

“It’s a growing problem that has to be addressed in this industry,” says Ralph Webster, general manager for the South Island for Opal Consulting Group.

Webster says every company, regardless of size or industry, must have a code of practice that relates to occupational safety and health.

“Most companies have a manual on OSH at the very least. Everyone has to comply.” Just how far companies are willing to take the concept of ergonomics is another matter. Eighteen respondents work at “ergonomically-designed workstations” while 11 more do not. One respondent doesn’t know if their workstation is ergonomic or not.

For some companies just having an adjustable chair is enough, but they may be missing the point. “Companies that don’t fully address the problem will end up paying more in terms of sick leave and down time,” says Webster. Opal assesses companies for OSH compliance before placing employees so as to ensure workers are protected.

One area that is causing some concern is the portable market. The increase in demand for notebooks means a large number of workers are more likely to experience OOS problems, especially when it comes to using pointing devices, be it a mouse, touchpad or pointer. Users must be aware, says Webster, of the set-up they are using when away from the office.

Many companies contract a specialist to visit workers on a regular basis, and this seems to be a growth area. Seventeen respondents had regular visits from specialists. Visits range from monthly to yearly, with one fortunate company employing a full-time specialist. Six of the survey respondents had trained existing staff members to be on-site specialists, something which Webster says is becoming more commonplace.

Something else on the increase is the use of software packages that enforce OOS breaks. Several respondents claim to be using them, and Webster says he is seeing more of them in use.

“Some force you to take a break — they say you’ve been working for 40 minutes or whatever, and they lock you out for a set period.”

The final question on the survey asked if the respondent could touch-type. Not only is there an obvious advantage in speed but touch-typists spread the workload between all their fingers.

Posture is also emphasised when touch-typing is taught in schools, and this should lead to a decrease in OOS. Of the 30 respondents only nine could touch-type, but of those nine only two had incurred problems with OOS.

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