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Sunday, February 28, 2010, is the 11th international Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) awareness day. The first RSI day was February 29, 2000. The leap year day was chosen as it is the only non-repetitive day of the year. In non-leap years, RSI day is observed on February 28.

RSI day was started by a group of injured activists to raise public awareness about the causes of repetitive strain injuries, their devastating effects, ways to eliminate the risks and secure just compensation.

One in 15 affected

Repetitive strain injuries are the most common type of workplace injury in Canada. A Statistic Canada study has found that more than two million (nearly one in 15) Canadians have experienced a repetitive strain injury serious enough to affect their normal activities.

With cutbacks to the public sector increasing the workloads of CUPE members, we need to be on the lookout more than ever for RSI symptoms and to renew our call for employers to take these conditions seriously.

What are RSIs?

RSI is a generic term used to describe a host of painful and frequently debilitating disorders affecting tendons, muscles, nerves and joints in the neck, back, shoulders, arms and hands.

These injuries are caused by frequent and repetitive activities where workers are not given sufficient rest time. Poor work organization and working in awkward postures are major contributors.

What can you do?

To stop these injuries, we need to eliminate monotonous, repetitive and stressful work at fast speeds and poor work organization and management. Unnecessary overtime, understaffing from cutbacks and layoffs, substandard equipment, and lack of worker control need to be addressed in the workplace.

The day is a call to action for union members. CUPE encourages union locals to use the day to organize and participate in workplace and community activities sponsored by local labour councils and grassroots organizations.

At work, take action by bringing hazards to the forefront and having RSI recognized as the disabling disease that it is. Spread the word by distributing information, holding education sessions or conducting other awareness events in your workplace.

As part of CUPE’s year of the steward activities, local union committee members are encouraged to work with shop stewards and use the day to start conducting regular workplace inspections that uncover RSI hazards.

Things you and your local can do to stop repetitive strain injuries:

  • Avoid doing the same repetitive actions over a long period,
  • Take all scheduled or negotiated breaks,
  • Recognize that temperature extremes can increase the risk of RSIs,
  • Report RSI hazards to your local union health and safety committee and your supervisor, and request that measures be taken to resolve any problems,
  • Report discomfort or pain when doing your work in writing and seek medical attention,
  • File a workers compensation claim.

Under occupational health and safety legislation, all employers have a duty to provide safe workplaces. Some jurisdictions have specific legislation addressing RSI and ergonomic issues (federal, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador).

Act now to prevent future injuries. For more information, see CUPE National’s Repetitive Strain Injuries Fact Sheet.