RSI in the UK

Question: Since one week I have joined this mailing list. I am a Dutch student studying European Business Management at de Haarlem Business School. I am currently writing my dissertation over RSI in Europe. I would like to make an overview of the countries in Europe where the theme RSI is an issue. In the Netherlands, RSI is hot! There are 2.5 million VDU workers and researches have shown that over 1 million VDU workers have RSI related complaints! There is a special institute that helps employees making a claim to their employers. Recently, the first claim has been approved of by the court. There are a lot of institutions that are dealing with the prevention of RSI, the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment has set up a special website with information about RSI. A lot of employers are buying pause software, programs that advice you to take a break after a certain period of time. My question is:

  • Can you tell me something about the situation in the UK?
  • How many VDU workers are there, and how many of them have complaints?
  • Are there special institutions dealing with the prevention of RSI?
  • Are you known with the pause software?
  • I hope you can help me with these questions. I am looking forward to your reply.

Answer 1: In the Netherlands, RSI is hot! In the UK it is luke warm at most – it is not yet being taken as seriously as it should be.

There is a special institute that helps employees making a claim to their employers. Recently, the first claim has been approved of by the court. We do not have any such thing as far as I know, except if you are a member of a Trade Union. Taking a legal case is quite difficult here as you have to be able to prove that your work caused the problem and a lot of people don’t believe that RSI really exists. It can often cost a lot of money too. There are a lot of institutions that are dealing with the prevention of RSI, the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment has set up a special website with information about RSI. There is some talk by certain Government Ministers about the fact that we must take action in the UK but I have not seen any evidence of anything working yet. There is no publicity from the Government. I do not think our Government takes it as seriously as the Dutch one is doing. Office Health and Safety is run by Local Government in the main and whilst there are many laws, it is not policed and many employers seem to ignore the requirements and get away with breaking the law. A lot of employers are buying pause software, programs that advice you to take a break after a certain period of time. These are known but not widely used or promoted to employers. Many people on this list use them. But taking breaks isn’t the only answer or even the cause in some people’s cases.

How many VDU workers are there, and how many of them have complaints? Most people who work in an office use a VDU to some degree or other but I don’t know how many nor how many have complaints – I don’t think anyone’s done a study yet. Then again, most of them probably don’t know what RSI: it is only just starting to get any mention at all on TV or in the newspapers. There is I think a lack of education about RSI here, both to employees and employers. Hope this is of use.

Answer 2: I think there’s a comparative book on this. It may only compare the UK and the US. I know the search terms so I’ll try to find it. You need also to look at people who aren’t VDU workers. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Answer 3: I have recently looked for statistics on the prevalence and cost of computer related health problems. You might find the information and references below helpful. I also have some information relating to some other countries if
you are interested. Extent and Cost of Computer Related Health Problems A report by the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that: “Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) remain by far the largest cause of occupational ill health. Of about 2 million people in Britain who reported suffering from work related ill health in a 1995 survey, 1.2 million people (60% of the total) were suffering from a MSD.” (British health and Safety Executive Report. Another HSE report (Work-Related Upper Limb Disorders Statistics Information Sheet, January 2000 ) states that the occupations with the highest rates for musculoskeletal disorders affecting the upper limbs or neck, as reported by rheumatologists in 1998 were: “Computer operators, data processing operators, other office machine operators” and Typists and word processor operators”.

In summarising data taken from a survey of work-related illness in 1995, the above HSE report states that: “[When] survey [respondents] were asked their opinion of what caused (at work) the condition which affected their upper limbs or neck, 38% of people thought that repetitive work or typing was the cause, 37% suggested manual handling and 27% believed the posture they adopt at work caused the problem.” “..almost half of the respondents reporting a condition affecting the upper limb or neck area had been suffering for at least 5 years..” “..an estimate of 4.2 million working days [were] lost in Britain in 1995 due to a musculoskeletal disorder affecting the upper limbs or neck, caused by work.” “On average this survey estimated that each sufferer took 13 days off work in 1995 because of their complaint.”

Based on the HSE report “The costs to Britain of workplace accidents and work-related ill health in 1995/96” the above HSE report goes on to state that: “..musculo skeletal disorders affecting the upper limbs or neck caused by work cost employers between £208 million and £221 million (1995/96 prices).” A 17 November 2000 press release from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, entitled “Work related musculoskeletal disorders are fast becoming the greatest health and safety challenge for Europe” states that: “MSDs [account] for up 40 or 50% of all work-related ill-health and [affect] over 40 million European workers. Europe’s competitiveness is being considerably reduced by the social and economic impact of this increasing work-related disorder. Some estimates in the UK put costs to companies at between £5,251 and £11,498 per reported case. Estimates in several Member States indicate that the overall costs could be between 0.5% and 2% of Gross National Product which is a significant burden on the EU economy. In the case of MSD prevention, it is clear that a healthy workplace could also contribute to a healthy business environment. “

The British Trade Union Congress (TUC) estimates that 100,000 adults in Britain a year develop musculoskeletal disorders as a result of working with computers . Based on an estimated 5 million people working with computers in the UK, the TUC estimates that every year a new case of injury will be reported for every 50 computer users. That is, every computer user has a 2% chance per year of developing a musculoskeletal disorder or an 80% chance that they will experience such a disorder at some time during a 40 year career involving computers. (RSI Network April 1998:
(From Hazards magazine, January-March 1998) A survey of over 3,500 keyboard workers commissioned by Britain’s Health and Safety Executive to look into the problem of upper limb musculoskeletal disorders (ULDs) found that: “..55% said that they had experienced symptoms of ULDs at some time and 49% said they had experienced symptoms in the last three months. [Only] 14% had asked for advice about their symptoms from a health professional..” (“Upper limb disorders in keyboard workers – research published”) In 1998 the UK’s largest union UNISON surveyed 500 careers advisors who used laptop computers. This survey found: “..61 per cent reported back pain, 60 per cent neck pain, 68 per cent eye strain, 55 per cent pain in their arms, 63 per cent headaches..” (“Laptops lambasted” Hazards 63, July – September 1998, page 21)

Answer 4: Thank you. I can’t find the book I wanted. Here’s a brief article that cites UK figures and mentions Holland. I’ll go on looking for the book http://www.hazards.org/strainpain.htm Meanwhile here are some links to Health and Safety resources. http://www.hazards.org/links/index.htm


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.