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Sharp rise in rates of repetitive strain injury - physiotherapists call for urgent action by government and employers

CSP press release published on 26 February 2008

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) is urging government and employers to take greater steps to protect workers in all industries from repetitive strain injury (RSI) as the latest figures show a sharp increase in the number of people with this disabling condition.

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) most recent figures (2006/7) show that both the number of new cases as well as the overall number of people affected has risen.

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RSI costs employers almost £300 million per year in lost working time, sick pay and administration. An estimated 3.5 million working days were lost in 2006-07 due to RSI, with each person affected taking over 13 days off sick. However, RSI is usually preventable or treatable with help from an occupational physiotherapist. 115,000 new cases of work-related upper limb disorders, popularly known as repetitive strain injury, were reported in 2006/7 as compared with 86,000 new cases in 2005/6. The overall numbers of people reporting a problem with RSI has also risen from 374,000 in 2005/6 to 426,000 in 2006/7 (see table A below). Based on progress to date, the HSE has stated that national targets to reduce ill health and days lost, as set down in the Revitalising Health and Safety strategy and in the HSA’s Public Service Agreement, will not be met. Table A: Numbers of people reporting a work-related upper limb disorder (RSI)

 SWI04/05SWI05/06SWI06/07Overall375,000374,000426,000New cases93,00086,000115,000

Sources: SWI04/05 SWI05/06 Headline figures from the most recent SWI survey (SWI06/07) are available in the HSE publication, Health and Safety statistics 2006/07, published in November 2007. Bronwyn Clifford, spokesperson for the CSP and member of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics (ACPOHE), comments: “ Why do we let this situation continue? Many thousands of people are suffering and employers are losing hundreds of millions of pounds every year through RSI. This is totally unnecessary as RSI can often be avoided with advice on appropriate equipment and safe working practices from occupational health physiotherapists. “Government and employers must do more to protect the health of employees and prevent a further increase in RSI. We urge the government to promote the use of occupational health physiotherapists more widely and to work with the HSE to ensure that current legislation is adhered to by all employers. ” Workers in the construction industry, rather than services or professional workers, are most at risk from RSI, according to the most recent figures available from the HSE (see Table B below). Health and Safety Executive figures analysed by the Labour Research Department for the CSP show that the jobs where workers are most likely to develop RSI are:

  • Plumbers, carpenters and painters in construction (1.26 per 100 workers),
  • Nurses and paramedics in the health service (1.08),
  • Plant and machine operatives (1.03)

The jobs with lowest rates were security guards, waiters and cleaners (0.41) and professionals such as financial analysts, estate agents and inspectors (0.44), (see Table B below). There are also some significant regional variations. The North East has the highest rate of RSI (1.24 per 100 workers), followed by the East Midlands (1.08). London has the lowest rate (0.69), (see Table C below). In the run up to International RSI Awareness Day (29 February) the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy offers the following tips on how to avoid RSI and some advice for employers. For manual workers:

  • try to avoid prolonged or repetitive tasks - if on a production line, try working from different work stations in half-hour periods to allow you to use different muscles
  • use both hands - pick one item with your left hand then one with your right
  • take more short breaks rather than one long one - use the time to stretch your arms and legs
  • make sure your clothes fit well so you can move freely
  • keep warm - cold muscles don’t extend properly
  • don’t over stretch to perform a task - move closer
  • report pain or other symptoms straight away - RSI is easier to treat in its early stages

Employers can make a big difference to the health of their workers while at the same time improving the productivity and profits of their business. The CSP wants to see employers:

  • provide assessments for each staff member to see what risks are associated with their job and how best to combat these
  • encourage early reporting of any symptoms and provide access to appropriate help, such as consulting an occupational physiotherapist
  • ensure employees are able to organise their work and take regular breaks

ENDS For further media information please contact the CSP press office on 020 7306 6616 (out of hours mobile: 07786 332 197) or Ann Stirling on 01273 202980 (mobile: 07939 153513). Notes to editors: 1. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is the professional, educational and trade union body for the UK's 49,000 chartered physiotherapists, physiotherapy students and assistants. Please visit our web site at 2. RSI is a general term that covers a range of conditions known as work-related upper limb disorders and can result in pain in the limbs, fingers, wrists, forearms, neck and shoulders. Any activity that involves prolonged maintenance of awkward or static postures, high rates of repetition or exertion of force can mean there is a risk of developing RSI. 3. In 1995/96 HSE estimated the cost of upper limb disorders at between £208 and £221 million per year. Allowing for inflation, these figures would now be between £275 million and £293 million. 4. Breakdowns by occupation and region are not yet available for 2006/7. HSE is currently using the previous survey SWI05/06, from which the tables below are derived. All figures are on the HSE website.  Table B: Estimated prevalence and rates of self-reported musculoskeletal disorders mainly affecting the upper limbs or neck caused or made worse by current or most recent job, by occupation, for people working in the last 12 months, averaged 2003/04-2005/06

Occupation descriptionRate per 100 employed in the last 12 monthsPrevalenceSkilled construction and building trades1.2614,000Health and social welfare associate professionals1.0812,000Process, plant and machine operatives1.0311,000Skilled metal and electrical trades0.9311,000Culture, media and sports occupations0.885,000Textiles, printing and other skilled trades0.815,000Transport and mobile machine drivers and operatives0.798,000Elementary trades, plant and storage related occupations0.758,000Secretarial and related occupations0.76,000Leisure and other personal service occupations0.674,000All occupations0.62181,000

Source: HSE Table C: Estimated prevalence and rates (%) of self-reported musculoskeletal disorders mainly affecting the upper limbs or neck, caused or made worse by work, by country and government office region within England, for people ever employed, (SWI 2005/06)

Government office regionRate per 100 ever employedPrevalenceNorth East1.2423,000East Midlands1.0835,000Yorkshire and Humber1.0539,000West Midlands0.9537,000Wales0.9120,000South East0.9157,000East0.8335,000North West0.7437,000Scotland0.7429,000South West0.7027,000London0.6935,000England0.88325,000Great Britain0.87374,000

Source: HSE 5. The Revitalising Health and Safety strategy statement, launched by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chair of the Health and Safety Commission in June 2000 set national targets to reduce the incidence rate of work-related ill health, the incidence rate of fatal and major injuries and the rate of working days lost from work-related ill health and injury by 2010. 6. The Hazards campaign has produced some free “Repeat after me” A4 and A3 posters for International RSI Awareness Day on 29th February. Contact or 0161 636 7557 The charity RSI Action is holding a free information day on Saturday 1 March 2008 at the Friends Meeting House, 173, Euston Rd, NW1 2BJ. For further information please email: or write to RSI Action, PO Box 173, Royston, Hertfordshire, SG8 0WT.


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