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Introduction

The Information Age has certainly arrived. Tremendous energy and creativity have been unleashed to find new applications for computers. Unfortunately, much less attention has been paid to the effects these machines are having on those who work with computers.

The expanded use of computers has been accompanied by a staggering increase in the number of health complaints and injuries among computer users.

Ergonomics is the practice of adapting the job to fit the person, rather than the person to the job. Adapting the job can be done by designing equipment, tasks, pace and other job factors in such a way as to enhance the health and comfort of the workers. In addition to health concerns, people work more efficiently and are more productive if they are not nursing aches and pains.

Injuries resulting from poor ergonomic working conditions affect workers in manufacturing, construction, health care, government and other sectors of the economy. These injuries are called musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2005 there were 375,540 work-related MSDs, which accounted for 30 percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses with days away from work. Carpal tunnel syndrome, one type of MSD that affects computer operators, caused a median of 27 days away from work and tied with fractures for the highest type of injuries.

The signs of pain and discomfort can be seen in most offices. Computer operators are popping pain killers, applying heat, using eye drops and taking other medications to get rid of their aches and pains. A growing number of workers have had restrictions placed on their duties for medical reasons. Computer-related injuries cause many employees to miss substantial periods of work.

Most of the health problems faced by those who work with computers fall into two categories:

  • injuries to the hands, wrists, elbows, arms, shoulders and neck. These are called the “upper extremities” (UE).
  • eye/vision problems and headaches.

Computer operators also feel aches and pains in their back and legs when they do not have chairs and other equipment that fit their shape and size.

This booklet describes musculoskeletal disorders that affect computer operators. These disorders are sometimes also known at cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) or repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) or “wear and tear” injuries. These terms refer to injuries that are a result of continued wear and tear on muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints.

Are the aches, pains and injuries just the price workers have to pay for progress? Absolutely not! As with other occupational injuries and illnesses, the hazards of computer work are preventable. It is the employer’s responsibility to make the changes needed to prevent MSDs.

This booklet has been prepared to assist AFSCME members and staff in addressing the health problems that have accompanied the use of computers. If you need further information about ergonomics in your workplace, contact the Health and Safety Program in the AFSCME Department of Research and Collective Bargaining Services.

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