"We pray with our hands and often communicate with them. We use them to eat, work, and make love. We employ them as marvelously sophisticated instruments of flexibility and strength, and when they are damaged, we anguish."
- Keith L. Moore
With newer gadgets and facilities come newer health challenges. The computer maybe the modern marvel that has increased the pace and productivity of work, but the human body is not designed to be sedentary. Reports from PC users all over the world, point to serious health issues posed by the monotony and stress of being tied to a computer for most part of the day.
A few of the health problems that the computer has brought in its wake include Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), Work Related Upper Limb Disorder (WRULD), Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD), fatigue, migraine headaches and eye strain. These symptoms could just be the beginning of serious health concerns because computer usage is relatively new and we are yet to understand the long- term health consequences of a lifetime of working at a computer desk.
Computer - related injuries are mainly a physical problem and not a psychosomatic one. Prolonged hours of sitting and working at a particular place can increase stiffness in joints and muscles. Stress may aggravate symptoms. It has been proved easier to prevent computer -related injuries than to cure them.Ergonomics is the science that focuses on equipment design at workplaces with a view to reduce fatigue and discomfort in workers by improving working conditions. The overall aim of ergonomics is to increase workers’ efficiency and thereby maximize productivity.
Ergonomic furniture and ergonomic accessories are becoming increasingly popular in markets all over the world. For instance, ergonomic keyboards designed with a view to reduce muscle strain and repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, are hitting the market offering different features. Some ergonomic keyboards are a single board with keys arranged in 2 or 3 groups at different angles rather than a straight keyboard. Some have the keyboard split into separate independent pieces with elevated sections at different angles. Some ergonomic keyboards have keys fixed at a vertical elevated level so that the user’s hands can be unbent and perpendicular to the ground.
Employers and workers need to be informed of the health hazards of constant computer use, successful prevention techniques and useful remedies if injuries do occur.
In India, CRI is not treated as an occupational hazard, unlike developed countries such as the US, Canada, Australia and UK where computer-related injuries are compensated. Startling Facts
• Recent studies have shown that using computers for three hours a day at a stretch can prompt health risks such as Occupational Overuse Syndrome OUS, Computer Vision syndrome CVS, tension headaches, low back pains and psychosocial stress. Intensive studies are being conducted to explore ways and means of coping with computer -related injuries that are gradually increasing, as reports from all over the world seem to suggest.
• Back injuries account for one third of all workplace injuries.
• 10 years ago back injuries were associated with heavy lifting. Today they are caused by people sitting in front of computers.
• A 1998 survey showed RSI has increased by 22% in a couple of years.
• In the early 1990s the average age of workers reporting carpal tunnel syndrome was late 30s to early 40s. Now it has dropped to mid-20s and even younger.
• In Bangalore, India, results of a study among more than 1,200 IT professionals (2001-2003) suggest that over 75 percent of those studied reported CRI symptoms of varying severity.
• The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says CRI accounted for 66% of work- related illnesses in the US in 1999.
• Estimated costs to companies due to loss of productivity and compensation due to CRI is 60-100 billion dollars in the US alone
A 2007 cross- sectional study conducted on a sample of 136 users comprising of university students and office staff in Malaysia, where many were using standard keyboard and mouse without any ergonomic modification whatsoever, reported the following findings:
• About 50% of those with some degree of low back pain did not use an adjustable backrest.
• Many users had high incidence of Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA) of the wrist and neck that suggested an increased risk of developing Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS).
• As many as 64% were using refractive corrections and yet had showed high incidence of Computer Vision syndrome (CVS) that generally included eye fatigue, headache and burning sensation.
• An increase in CVS scores corresponded with increased hours of computer usage.
A study conducted in India on a sample of 650 people in computer-dependent careers, (average age was 27 years and ratio of males to females was 4:1) revealed that:
• 55% developed CRI symptoms within a year of beginning computer-dependent careers.
• 76% reported at least 1 symptom.
• 60% of those with severe injuries reported neck and shoulder pain and stiffness.
• 6 software engineers between 25 and 35 years with CRI symptoms had to give up their career.