go to WASHINGTON FREE PRESS HOME (subscribe, contacts, archives, latest, etc.)

Mar/Apr 2001 issue (#50)


'60s Dream Lives On

Party Troopers

Suit Filed Against George W. Bush

"Friends in High Places"

Baby Bush Bombs Baghdad

Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge

Biblically-Grounded Movements For Progressive Change In Washington

How to Run for City Council

Mad Cow: Coming to the U.S.?

Monoculture and Mad Cows

Itching to Ride Light Rail

Is Work Killing You?

Escaping the Globalized Gym

Seattle's Clattering Poets

A Puppetista Manifesto

Living Outside Empire

Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge

ACORN's Falling

Social Transformation Explained? Technogod

Spokane Free-speech Battle


Reader Mail


Urban Work

Media Beat

Nature Doc

Rad Videos

Do Something!

Reel Underground

Is Work Killing You?

by Jill Anne Gambaro, contributor

Until last year, I was a highly respected, well-paid legal secretary. Then one day, my fingers would no longer move, my neck burned with pain and my shoulders spasmed into a charley horse. That was over a year ago. I haven’t been able to work since.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, the most widely known Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), is just one of a dozen upper extremity disorders which affect 1.8 million Americans every year. When undetected, they spread to other parts of the body and create disabilities which last a lifetime. Experts insist these injuries have reached epidemic proportions. Former President Clinton signed into law what OSHA has tried to pass through Congress for ten years—ergonomic standards for all businesses. Employer groups immediately filed suit and Senator Michael Enzi (Rep. Wyoming) has invoked the little-used Congressional Review Act to overturn the rule. The fight is about how much will it cost business to adhere to these standards versus how much it will cost American workers if they don’t. [The Washington State Labor Council is currently working for state ergonomic standards]

Unfortunately, even if Republicans fail to reverse the standards, good ergonomics is not enough to prevent an RSI. As more and more Americans use computers at home, in school and on the job, everyone will be affected. Surprisingly, the general public has little information about the devastation this disorder can cause. Everywhere I go, people can’t believe I got injured while seated at a computer.

RSIs result from prolonged repetitive movements, or muscles, such as those of your back, held rigid for long periods of time. To cradle the phone between your neck and shoulder can cause an RSI. Unfortunately, the injury rarely stays isolated to one area. Once muscles become overused, they pass the workload onto other muscles. What begins in the hands, moves up the arms, across the shoulders, into the neck, and down the back. Bad posture makes it worse. “Most people wouldn’t consider poor posture a serious medical problem, but it can become just that over time”, says Dr. Emil Pascarelli, a recognized expert in the field.

It is crucial to identify the symptoms before it’s too late. By the time numbness and tingling materialize, most of the damage has already been done. Other signs to look for are stiffness, weakness, coldness, hypersensitivity, heaviness, the inability to grasp objects, pain, and tightness in the hands, arms, neck, shoulders or back. As soon as you begin to notice any of these symptoms, take them seriously. The longer they are present, the more difficult it is to undo the damage. Major lifestyle changes and biomechanical re-education become necessary to resume simple tasks such as driving. Your ability to work can be severely compromised.

Even children can be affected by RSIs. The newest member to the Los Angeles RSI Support Group is twelve year old Jessica. Between homework and practicing the cello, Jessica has already overstrained her hands. She now begins the long and difficult process of diagnosis. Fortunately, support groups have sprung up all over the country to help her and other sufferers find doctors experienced with these injuries. In Seattle, the Repetitive Strain Injury Support Team (RIST) meets on the second Monday of every month from 7:00 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. at the Fremont Public Library. Organizer Heidi Olsen says, “RIST is a free group for people to get information and help to deal with their RSI.” You can reach them at (206) 442-2066, or visit their website at http://www.seattlerist.org. You’ll also find the RSI Community’s On-Line Resource webpage at http://www.tifaq.org for ergonomic product information.

Recommended books include Repetitive Strain Injury, A Computer User’s Guide by Dr. Emil Pascarelli and Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by Sharon J. Butler.

If you think about your job duties and how they strain your body, creative solutions can be found to maintain productivity.

Body awareness, stretches, exercises and frequent breaks are all necessary to prevention. Experts recommend workers stop and stretch every ten minutes, but how do you put this into practice in a competitive workplace? Try to vary your tasks throughout the day. Don’t stockpile one type of work before you do another. If you think about your job duties and how they strain your body, creative solutions can be found to maintain productivity. The manufacturing industry has had much success in job sharing, where two employees switch jobs throughout the day to allow their strained bodies some much needed rest. At the very least, take your breaks, stand up and stretch, or go for a short walk at lunch.

The Congressional Review Act will give Congress the authority to repeal the ergonomics rule. Immune from Senate filibusters, only a majority vote is needed to send a revocation measure to the White House. “... I believe President Bush would gladly let Congress rid the country of the current rule ...,” says Senator Enzi. As lawmakers debate the value of your ability to work, high-risk employees will have to rely on themselves for protection. Don’t get caught like I did.

go to WASHINGTON FREE PRESS HOME (subscribe, contacts, archives, latest, etc.)