I often read the mail from the subscribers of RSI-UK and felt I must add my own views on this subject. I recently conducted some research into the effects of RSI on the ‘younger generation’ and already some of results were quite disturbing. I visited local comprehensive schools in my area where IT equipment is provided for pupils to use during lessons. What I found in one class of pupils (aged 13+) was that very few were sitting on the appropriate seating (a four leg chair) and normally share a computer two and three at a time, it was also noticeable that pupils were all different heights. The teacher I spoke to told me that he was completely unaware of conditions like RSI, ULD and CTS and therefore didn’t know whether a child is sitting correctly or not, so consequently allow them to sit at the computer desk anyway they liked. Some of the photographic evidence clearly shows children slouching over a keyboard looking at screens that were not functioning correctly e.g.blue, green and red/orange in colour while running windows
When I questioned the various groups of children (both male and female) along with some older pupils they told me that in most cases they were being allowed to use PC’s at home for long periods of time. The majority of boys had either a Sony Playstation or a Nintendo 64 games console additional to a PC and even the girls said they used the computer at home for studying or used their brother’s game console. One of the questions I asked was ‘ how long are you permitted by your parents you to use a PC or play on a games console at any one time. The answer in most cases was and I quote “providing I’m quiet and my parents know where I am, I can play as long as I want”. Many of the pupils (particularly boys) confessed to play for more than 3 hours at a time nonstop, and this was usually during the evenings and weekends.
Some boys (aged15+) said they would normally play on a PC using a keyboard and mouse for 8 hours plus per day over the weekend. I asked them how they felt at the end of the day and most replied “I usually have a headache and my fingers and bum tend to go numb and my right arm starts aching and generally feeling stressed out”, is it any wonder. These types of answers were quite common amongst the children interviewed during my research and leads me to think that by the time the reach adulthood most of them will have suffered or be suffering from some kind of RSI, CTS, ULD or some stress related disorder. The answer must surely lie in the education for children, parents, teachers and local authorities, otherwise future generations will be costing the country millions of pounds in days lost from work and an overload of the National Health Service. Mr Blunkett may be injecting vast amounts of money into IT equipment for schools but he is not investing in the health issues relating to the effects of misuse and over use of this equipment. I welcome any comments on this issue.
Comment 1: Yes, I agree. It is though pretty difficult to get anything done. I used to teach word processing to our graduate students, and after I got RSI, taught them about safe computing too. They didn’t take any notice. Even when I told them a US student I was teaching that year got it when she was 17, and the partner of another student, around the same age, had it, they didn’t listen. But maybe if it were tackled very young, then it would be different. Long working hours etc. also have to be tackled!
Comment 2: There is a need for a complete change in the way in which we interact with computers. There is simply NO way that we will change the majority of children’s’ approach to using a computer simply by exhortation (any more than we have improved manners on the road by this means). The change has to be MUCH more deep seated than this and will take a vast change in attitude as well major changes in the ergonomics of interfacing with a computer. Clearly VR Software is a beginning but still suffers from major problems which are probably inherent in the assumptions inherent in the way that we currently interact with the computer. Perhaps the only good thing (If from a very gloomy viewpoint) to come out of what you are describing is that SOMETHING will be done about this within the next 10 – 15 years as the you-know-what hits the fan. As usual much too late. Sorry to sound off like this but I am a professional Safety Officer and I’ve been here too many times in my career to be more sanguine.
Comment 3: The St.Albans and District RSI Support Group have written to Tony Blair (the PM) and their local MP drawing their attention to the need for Health and Safety education in the use of computers by School children. We are currently awaiting a reply from Mr. Blunkett. Would other members of the list be prepared to write to their MP‘s and draw their attention to matter? I take it the ‘Occupational Health & Safety Bureau’ is nothing to do with the ‘Health & Safety Executive’? i.e. you work for a company, not part of the government?
Comment 4: Hear, hear! It frightens me the total lack of interest in this subject. We seem to be heading headlong into a completely computer based society with no thought of the consequences. (Much as we became a society dependant on the motor engine without seeing the consequences) but we don’t have the excuse of not knowing what the consequences would be. Society seems to have its head well buried in the sand. I even read somewhere that RSI is not as prevalent as people think it is. Oh yeah! 100% of the team that I work with has some symptoms although none have reached my stage (yet). I am not anti computer. I fully appreciate how much easier a computer makes my work and would not be without it. However, moderation in everything is what we are told is the way to good health. Unfortunately, computers are addictive. It is very easy to spend hours and hours staring at the screen without moving. I, myself, have a tendency to use the mouse and keyboard at times, still, even though I know that within a few minutes I will have pain. (I have a recurrence of shoulder pain at the moment because I used the mouse when I had a sore throat and found it difficult to use voice recognition software as normal.)
I suspect that this situation will have a lot of similarities with smoking. We have known for 40 years that smoking causes cancer but people still smoke-in fact it is increasing in children. Despite years of government health warnings, people do not listen for whatever reasons. People in general believe that it won’t happen to them. It will be harder with computers because to have a chance in the job market you will have to be able to use one and probably spend most of the day in front of one. We are also victims of our ‘end gaining’ society. We must always do more, achieve more, and be more productive. I have a colleague with a 3 year old son. Within the next year he will have a computer in his bedroom. The thought horrifies me but like most parents she believes that he will have to become computer literate so young, in order to compete in the job market in 20 years. I don’t have an answer to this. But I do believe that we need increased awareness of the potential health dangers. Or perhaps, it should be pointed out to the computer and software companies that they could follow the situation of the cigarette companies in 20 years, when they will be sued for millions for failing to warn people of the dangers of their products. It is probably only when RSI victims start getting compensation awards in the hundred thousand mark and above that anyone will pay any attention.