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
Free download: Noise at work factsheet
Approximately 17,000 people in the UK suffer from work-related deafness, this factsheet created in partnership with Southalls, will help you to highlight if your employees are at risk. As well demonstrate key stats, legislation and advice for responsible health and safety practitioners.