An increasing number of people today spend prolonged periods of time in front of a computer. Whether it’s for work or for pleasure, our computer usage has increased exponentially over the years and has become, for many of us, a routine part of our day-to-day lives.
However, there are some schools of thought that associate our sometimes inescapable overuse of computers with the crippling and painful joint disorder, arthritis. And while there is still no conclusive evidence that prolonged computer use increases the risk of arthritis, most employers implement measures to ensure that computer users are as comfortable as possible in the workplace.
Most companies are actively ensuring that their employees are operating computers in the safest possible way. It should be noted that the impact of rheumatoid arthritis in the workplace can be seen in that sufferers of the disease take six times more sick days than their healthier colleagues.
Furthermore, the often excruciating symptoms of the autoimmune disease mean that one in seven sufferers have to give up work altogether just one year after being diagnosed – a startling reality that obviously has a long-term impact for both employees and employers alike.
According to the British Society for Rheumatology, if the disease is correctly diagnosed and early treatment given within 12 weeks, the long-term damage is significantly reduced and individuals are able to accomplish simple tasks for an increased period of time.
For this reason, it is important that employees seek medical advice at the first signs of symptoms and make adjustments to the way in which they operate computers to reduce the risk of repetitive strain injury – a condition often associated with osteoarthritis. Therefore, it is important to optimise workstations and constantly review individual setups to minimise repetitive strain injury and potential osteoarthritis.
Even the smallest of issues can have a long-term effect if they are not addressed, so as a minimum, the following workstation elements should be optimised:
Chair – individuals should be supplied with a chair that is fit for purpose and fully adjustable. To ensure correct posture, thighs should be parallel to the floor and feet should be either flat on the floor or elevated slightly using a footrest.
Keyboard – computer keyboards need to allow the employee to sit with their wrists as flat as possible. Also, laptop keyboards should ideally be avoided and users should have a separate keyboard configuration.
Mouse – the small and precise movements made using a mouse often follow a very repetitive pattern. Therefore, it is advisable to grip the mouse loosely and use both the arm and shoulder to move it, not just the wrist. Some individuals may find that trackballs provide an alternative should operating a mouse cause them a strain.
Breaks – as with any activity, regular breaks when using a computer are essential. They should be taken every hour and consist of standing up, walking away from the workstation and getting some fresh air. This will allow blood to flow and stimulate joints accordingly.
We often find that employers can almost neglect the impact of physical causes of absence. Here the focus is on arthritis and we believe with increased use of computers requiring fine motor skills that there may be future claims for arthritic or RSI conditions.
We have a solution for short term absence; please contact our Employee Benefits team for more details.