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February 28 is the 12th annual International Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) Awareness Day. Sadly, many Canadians are already all too aware.
That’s because RSIs are the most common type of workplace injury in Canada. A Statistics Canada study found that more than two million (nearly one in 15) Canadians have experienced a repetitive strain injury serious enough to affect their normal activities.
CUPE has been a longtime advocate for increased RSI awareness and prevention. Our fact sheet on RSIs is among the most popular resources on our website and on the whole Internet. But don’t take our word for it: try typing “repetitive strain injury” into Google and see what comes up just below the Wikipedia entry!
In honour of this important date, CUPE encourages members to check out the fact sheet and think about aspects of your job that might put you at risk for RSIs.
Need more information? Here’s some of the basics on RSIs.
What are RSIs?
Repetitive strain injuries (RSI) are a classification for often painful and debilitating injuries that affect the body’s soft tissues: muscles, nerves and connective tissues in the joints.  The most common sites for pain are the neck, back, shoulders, arms and hands.  Unlike injuries people often associate with work (such as a twisted ankle, a cut, or a broken bone, repetitive strain injuries develop slowly over time.  Common causes of RSI’s include working in awkward positions, holding static postures, the use of vibrating tools, and a poor work design.

Awareness is the key to prevention
Growing workloads in the public sector greatly increase the possibility of RSIs. Workers need to be aware of the symptoms and employers need to take working condition factors seriously.
Detecting symptoms of RSI can be tricky, as symptoms usually progress gradually.  Workers need to be aware of changes that affect their body.  If you feel pain, joint stiffness, tight muscles, a tingling feeling or numbness, then you may be developing an RSI. On top of the internal symptoms, there may be external signs like redness, swelling, difficulty moving or skin colour change.
To stop these injuries, we need to eliminate monotonous, repetitive and stressful work at fast speeds and poor work organization. Unnecessary overtime, understaffing from cutbacks and layoffs, substandard equipment, and lack of worker control need to be addressed in the workplace.
Under occupational health and safety legislation, all employers have a duty to provide safe workplaces. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Federal Jurisdiction have specific legislation addressing RSI and ergonomic issues.
What can you do?
At work, take action by bringing hazards to the forefront and recognizing RSI as the disabling disease that it is. Spread the word by distributing our fact sheet, think about tasks in your workplace that could lead to an RSI.
Local Joint Health and Safety Committee members can work with shop stewards 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 supervisor and joint health and safety committee, 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

Act now to prevent future injuries!