Spreading the word

Yesterday, with about two hours notice, I was invited to speak to a meeting of safety officers from the UK research councils and several universities. I was presented as something like “the worst case of RSI we have had at this institution” I was able to tell these people what it was like developing RSI and the solutions I had discovered which have enabled me to keep working. I don’t know that I was very coherent, but I was very pleased with their positive response… they are obviously keen to prevent people developing these problems. But they are less aware of the various options open to RSI sufferers such as alternative input devices and voice software. Their main question was “how can we tell who is at risk?” It’s a difficult question to answer particularly when they can give examples of people who have been typing for 20 years with no problems. My answer would be anyone who is using a keyboard. Only one of these officers had heard about the RSI association. I gave them all the web address for the RSIA pages which I found so useful when I first developed symptoms. Here’s hoping that the information will raise the level of awareness across the research councils and universities!

Comment 1: A number of us have been spreading the word about RSI-UK in the University sector for a long time. It’s sad to hear just how stony the ground has proved, especially when a US university site I recently visited had a link to RSI-UKs FAQs (plus a very complimentary comment about them). The comment about prevention is DEFINITELY the bottom line for us as University Safety Officers. The very last thing we want is to have to see individual after individual crippled, possibly for life, certainly for a long time, and feel we ought to have been able to do something to prevent this. A big problem is that while with my primary “hat” as Radiation Protection Adviser on I can liberate quite a respectable amount of money to ensure we comply with the law (we’d get closed down otherwise), it is much more difficult to do this with RSI until we can predict with some confidence when and why it appears. We don’t have enough money to keep many basic services up, let alone pay decent salaries, so there is certainly no money for “shotgun” methods, which in any case don’t reliably prevent RSI.

Do however understand that we are on the side of safe working conditions and prevention but see this in a much broader context (we can be faced with the alternatives of whether to make the outside of a building safe or whether to buy “proper” computer chairs for one of the many overnight 24 hour student computer rooms. Our students might object if we chose the chairs then banned them from the building). Political decisions have been made about how much money this country will spend on higher education and these seem to have a very direct link into some of the causal factors of RSI (we have senior academics working from 7 in the morning to 10 at night every day of the week, frequently putting 12 hours a day in on a computer, with their marriages breaking apart around them. This is not an uncommon scenario). So the bottom line is that the political will has to be there to improve the situation in Universities by putting the money back into them (adequate staffing will solve a lot of RSI problems). Sorry to sound off but we get very frustrated at times!

Comment 2: One thing I have noticed with my wife’s injuries is that after she was invalided out with very visible braces on her hands for a while, a number of other senior managers started to take the pains in their hands (which hitherto they had been dismissing as unimportant in a macho sort of way) a lot more seriously. As a result, two or three cases of what would have been debilitating injury have been headed off at the pass, with a resultant saving to the company of quite literally incalculable value (regardless of the cost of compensation etc, have you any idea what it costs to recruit and mesh in a senior management type these days, not to mention the competitive edge lost of a couple of people drop out of a strategically important are at the wrong time?). It might be worth pointing out to those allocating expenditure on RSI prevention that good staff would be expensive (and in the case of computer staff) impossible to replace at anything approaching a reasonable cost. I don’t mean to sound unfeeling, but arguments about pain and suffering have little effect upon bodies corporate unless the pain and suffering affects the dividend. 

Comment 3: This reminds me of a similar tip – if you have RSI, wear a bandage sometimes and people will believe you have a ‘real’ problem. I did this when having Chinese herbal poultices and it had quite an effect.


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