Workplace repetitive strain injuries affect about 15% of Canadians (over 5 million), according to Statistics Canada. In Ontario they account for over 40% of allowed WSIB lost-time claims – many more are never reported. Repetitive Strain Injury Awareness Day was established by local injured worker activists on the initiative of Catherine Fenech, and is now commemorated internationally on February 29th, the only non-repetitive day on the calendar (or February 28th in non-leap years).
- The 2023 International Annual RSI Awareness Day was celebrated virtually this year in a series of 4 weekly webinars organized by OHCOW (Feb. 10, 17, 24, 28) – [view webinars ]
What are RSIs? A real pain
Repetitive strain injuries are soft-tissue injuries, also known as work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs), debilitating conditions that limit normal daily activities and cause persistent pain. The term covers a group of overuse injuries that affect the muscles, nerves and tendons of the neck, upper and lower back, shoulders, arms and hands. Some of the common WMSDs are carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, rotator cuff syndrome, epicondylitis (tennis elbow). They are commonly caused by repetitive or forceful actions or working in an awkward position. Insufficient time to heal, heat or cold, vibration, pace of work or stress are risk factors that can also play a role.
Although many workers suffer from RSIs, these are “invisible” injuries, often poorly understood and those who have them all too often face accusations of malingering. Historically, gender bias has also affected the recognition of repetitive strain injuries. With the entry of women into the workforce, particularly office involving keyboarding or manufacturing work using tools designed for larger grip of the “average male” men, stereotyping by some physicians meant it was often dismissed as a “woman’s complaint”.
What action is needed?
- Employers should modify job tasks, workspace and equipment to ensure the work is physically and mentally comfortable and effective (ergonomic design)
- They should provide effective employee safety training on ergonomic hazards
- The Ontario government should implement ergonomic regulations to ensure employers take these necessary steps, rather than rely on voluntary compliance with guidelines and Ministry of Labour inspection blitzes. OFL’s statement “Ergonomic Regulations are Needed to Prevent Repetitive Strain Injuries” (2014)
- Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers. OHCOW Workplace ergonomics.
- Ontario. Ministry of Labour. “Musculoskeletal Disorders / Ergonomics.” Toronto: The Ministry.
- 16th Annual RSI Awareness Day Conference, Toronto. 2015. “Observations of the Day” – summary of discussions, including responses to the 2014 IWH Study
- Canadian Union of Public Employees. “Repetitive Strain Injuries.”
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety. 2014. “Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs).” – fact sheet and guide to RSIs and prevention
- Institute for Work Health. 2013. “Risk of Repetitive Strain Different across Gender in Some Fields: Study.” At Work, no. 73.