Author Bio ▼

Raquel Baetz is an independent DSE assessor who uses her personal experience with RSI to inform the advice she provides for each individual. She gives talks and does one-on-one assessments for office workers, for individuals who work outside the traditional office, and for schools. Follow Raquel @SafeHandsDSE or visit SafeHandsDSE.com

September 30, 2014

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DSE assessments need to do more to combat RSI epidemic

DSE-assessments-rsi

More than 10 years ago I suffered a debilitating repetitive strain injury (RSI). I have had three DSE assessments since that time, all by different companies, and not one of them provided me with the information I believe is absolutely imperative when talking to a computer user about preventing RSI, or preventing further pain for someone with an existing problem. The truth is: DSE assessments aren’t going deep enough.

As a result of what I went through, I gained my DSE risk assessment qualification with the British Safety Council and have been doing assessments ever since because I’m worried that the message isn’t getting out.

An RSI, like the one I have, can mean years of lost wages, exorbitant costs for treatments, unwanted breaks in career trajectory, and mental health struggles. I estimate that I’ve spent in excess of £25,000 trying different treatments to help alleviate my pain throughout the years (in addition to what I’ve done via the NHS). That may sound unbelievable, but I have the evidence to prove it.

With what I now know about RSIs, I can honestly say that DSE assessors aren’t doing enough to stem the tide of this epidemic. (Last year, SHP online reported a study by ergonomics company Fellowes estimating that businesses in the UK spent more than £7 billion a year battling RSIs and their after effects.)

All three assessments I’ve experienced have been tick-box exercises in compliance, and have twice resulted in me being recommended an expensive chair as the only solution (typically from a company that the assessor had an affiliation with).

I never received the kind of advice that I now know is so important to the prevention of initial and further injury.

I appreciate that ergonomic equipment manufacturer and sale is big business, but no specialist equipment will stop users from sitting on their feet (something I used to do), sticking their chins out as they type, breaking their wrists (indeed wrist rests encourage this), contorting their fingers to reach hot key combinations, using excessive force to strike keys, etc., etc.—the list goes on and on. None of these actions have to do with the equipment being used, but rather with how the equipment is being used.

As assessors, we’ll never know if our clients are doing these things if we don’t watch them use the equipment they have, see how they work, and take photos or video to show the client what they are doing. And crucially, with the invasion of digital devices in our lives, we must talk to users about what they are doing when they are not at work. And not just a simple, “do you use computers at home?” We have to press them to talk about how they use them, what kind of devices they use, and how often. (I often find that clients don’t appreciate that their smartphone, eReader or video games are also digital devices and that their use counts toward their total time computing throughout their day.)

As digital devices become more prolific in our lives, and portable devices make safe set up harder and harder, compliance won’t be enough to stop or even slow the onslaught of physical and mental problems that will accompany their unsafe use. We need to raise awareness about these issues. As an industry, we have to do better.

Raquel Baetz is an independent DSE assessor who uses her personal experience with RSI to inform the advice she provides for each individual. She gives talks and does one-on-one assessments for office workers, for individuals who work outside the traditional office, and for schools. Follow Raquel @SafeHandsDSE or visit SafeHandsDSE.com

 

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Roly Buss
I agree with Raquel that the tick box assessment carried out by the user, or even the online versions are totally inadequate in achieving a suitable and sufficient assessment. The assessor needs understanding and knowledge of typical errors in the set up and the actions carried out by the user. Sitting on the leg is a common one which has to be changed, often it is due to the lack of a footrest. I carry out training for DSE Assessors, but all to often I find that a company has a simple form or the HSE one and they give… Read more »
Anna Glover
It’s frustrating for many safety managers who may have to contract out DSE assessments. I recommend asking the assessor to carry out an assessment on you first, and then I would look out for the pitfalls that Raquel points out. If the assessor types into a laptop whilst asking you yes /no questions, then that is a huge no! I’m biased, I’ve worked with Raquel and I think her methods are excellent. I wish other assessors took the view of her and the other person who has commented here. DSE issues cannot be ignored; they are expensive and de-motivating for… Read more »
THS
What a pity the aticle continues the myth that there is one issue called ‘RSI’. This fundermentally not a single p[roblem. There are many medical issues that singularly result in issues around workstations and it is sad that this is still not recognised even by someone that purports to be an ‘EXPERT’. most of the issues people have around injuries, pain, discomfort , etc can be helped by rest but others will never heal or ‘go away’, the human body is a fantastic machine but not a miracle worker. Practical pragmatic advise will include sitting position in relation to the… Read more »
Colin
Does the assessment collate the skills of the operator, particularly where medical problems have developed? Use of IT equipment is different to traditional typing but the reality is that there is a bulk of keyboard users who have never been taught to type properly. Typing properly ensures that the stresses and repetitions on the fingers are shared and that the fingers have limited lateral displacement. Interestingly, the wrists of the traditional typist were suspended. Even though the mechanical loading of the keys was significantly more than on a keyboard, the occurrence of these problems was much less significant.
michael gallagher
Whilst it is accepted that this lady continues to suffer after so many years, it is disappointing that she has yet to receive an accurate diagnosis from an expert hand/arm Surgeon. I’ve been in elf n safety for long enough to remember to Rafiq Mughal case, whereupon Judge John Prosser (correctly) kicked the infamous ‘RSI’ matter out of his Court Room, because ‘it doesn’t exist in the medical books’. The debate goes on. In any event, GP’s are the problem, for ‘diagnosing’ RSI. Unless there is prima facie medical evidence that bursitis, tenosynovitis, lateral epicondylitis or carpel tunnel syndrome (for… Read more »
Graham Windram
Hi Raquel. I very much agree with much of your feature. I too had a severe RSI injury caused by working on computers at the time I was given no advice, specialist equipment or working duty changes. As a result I had 6 months off work during 1 year period. I had cortisone injections in my elbow, steriod injections in my shoulder, accupuncture, physio and ended up as an in patient in a London hospital. At this time there were 32 other chronic RSI cases at the company On returning to work my company moved me into the occupational health… Read more »
Clemens

Thank you for sharing your information about RSI with the world! I had been suffering from RSI for about three years and found strength to not give up in websites like yours! It is so hard to stay upbeat sometimes…
I wrote down everything I learned along my journey (about 22,000 words, rsipain.com). Hope this can be a help to fellow sufferers.
Also I am collecting other success stories. So if you have won the battle against RSI, please think about contributing your story.

Thank you for your help!
Clemens

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