Your health in the workplace is your employer's responsibility
Work-related injuries affect an amazing number of people – and working in an office does not make you immune, as the recent National RSI Week demonstrated. A range of problems are caused by long hours at your desk, which you and your employer need to be aware of. Back pain, eye strain, and hand and arm injuries are the most common categories. According to figures released during the promotional week, 5.4 million working days were lost due to RSI-related sick leave last year, and six people leave their jobs every day due to an RSI condition. This is not something you can afford to ignore.

Call for back-up
Sitting for long periods can cause back problems. The two worst culprits are leaning forward and not changing position enough. Move around to stretch the spine and back muscles. Then adjust:

  • Seat height. Your feet should be able to rest flat on the floor. But this does not mean they should always be flat on the floor – your legs should be free to move into different positions.

  • Depth from the front of the seat to the backrest. You should be able to use the backrest without any pressure behind the knees.

  • Lumbar support. You need to adjust your chair to fit your lower back.

Safeguard your sight
Eyestrain can be a burning, sharp or dull pain, resulting in watering, blurring, double vision or headaches. The most overlooked cause of eyestrain is contrast – usually a dark screen surrounded by a bright background such as a window. The best solution is to darken the area around the screen. This problem occurs mainly on screens with light letters on a black background. There should be plenty of light for easy reading, but too much can cause eyestrain. And if you gaze at something for too long, your eyes tire. Eyes need to focus at different distances. Follow the "20:20 rule" – every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Forewarned is forearmed
RSIs are not only caused by repetitious work. Other possible causes are:

  • Holding one position. Muscles that hold a position for long periods are more prone to fatigue than muscles that move around.

  • Non-neutral postures. Any posture significantly different from "neutral" (the position about halfway through the range of motion for the joint) is considered to be at risk.

  • Localised pressure. Direct pressure on nerves or tendons can cause damage in the long run. The wrist and elbow are common problematic areas.

  • Cold temperatures.

If you suffer from any of these problems, see a doctor as soon as possible. Your employer should take all reasonable steps to create a comfortable working environment, so it may be liable to pay compensation if you have not been provided with the correct equipment.

Preventative measures
Even if you do not suffer from any problems, take these steps to avoid them in the future:

  • Break up repetitious work, taking breaks to walk around and stretch properly.

  • Relax your limbs and shoulders as much as possible, even during short pauses.

  • Stay away from positions near the extremes of your joints' range of motion – the most neutral joint position is about halfway.

  • Minimise contact with hard or sharp surfaces at the wrists and elbows. Do not lean on your desk for hours on end.

  • Keep your hands and fingers warm.

  • Position your chair and monitor so you are at the correct distance from the desk and screen.

  • Consider getting a telephone headset, chair armrests, ergonomic light-touch keyboard, foot rest, mousepad with a wrist or forearm rest, and a shade or glare screen for your computer.