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Tips for Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the Workplace

Friday, February 05, 2010
By Anne Kramer

Carpal tunnel syndrome has long been recognized as a significant workplace hazard. Yet recent research indicates that the repetitive stress injury actually results in more missed work than previously estimated. Many employees require short-term disability as they recover from carpal tunnel syndrome. Businesses can protect their employees’ health and save money with ergonomic tools and habits that prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

Reconfiguring the Workstation

The first step to preventing carpal tunnel syndrome is to create a workspace that fits each worker’s body and encourages proper posture for each task. This measure ensures that employees get proper support for their bodies.

  • Employees should be the right height for their workstation, so that they do not need to bend their wrists to use the computer. At sitting workstations, an adjustable chair is usually sufficient for proper height. For standing workstations, an adjustable work surface ensures correct height.
  • One of the primary causes of carpal tunnel syndrome is mouse usage. Replacing a traditional mouse with a trackball or footswitch significantly reduces the risk of multiple repetitive stress injuries (RSI), from carpal tunnel to trigger finger.
  • Placing a wrist rest along the edge of the keyboard cushions the joint and promotes a neutral hand and wrist posture.Computer users should be aware not to “plant and pivot” their wrists on the wrist rest while keying, but rather rest the sides of their hands on the wrist rest in between typing and using the mouse. Gel rests offer consistent and comfortable support.
  • Frequent laptop users run a higher risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, since they cannot reposition the keyboard or touchpad. To mitigate the effects of non-adjustable components, users can plug in ergonomic laptop accessories like keyboards or mice to laptops’ USB ports.
  • Industrial workers benefit from forearm rests and padded edge protectors for worktables. These devices provide extra support and padding for the lower arms, eliminating pressure and relieving stress on the joints of the wrists and hands.

Encouraging Healthy Work Habits

Once each workstation is optimized for individual employees’ physiological needs, the employees must practice safe habits that support musculoskeletal health. These habits complement the right equipment, so that employees can protect themselves in any workplace environment.

  • Ergonomic experts can conduct in-house ergonomic training sessions, so that employees can learn what proper posture looks and feels like. They can also help employees set up their workstations appropriately.
  • Software programs help employees remember to take breaks every so often and guide employees through a stretch routine. Stretching not only improves muscle tone, but also gives muscles a break from the static stress that results in RSI.
  • For employees who do not use a computer at their workstation, flashcards with stretches provide the same guidance as computer programs. Paired with regular breaks, stretching greatly reduces the incidence of injury.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can easily be avoided in the workplace. By offering employees ergonomic equipment and education, businesses can keep their employees healthy and safe.

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