Thursday, February 19, 2009

RSI - it's just like childbirth, really

RSI or repetitive strain injury is back in the news today. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy tell us that levels are as high as they ever were.

Now, in general the idea that you can only understand something if you've gone through it yourself does not convince me. I don't think you need to experience genocide or cancer or an episode of Top Gear to know they're not very pleasant. Being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes is part of what makes us human. But with RSI I'm prepared to make an exception.

Some 220+ British workers succumb to RSI every single working day. Make no mistake. It is clearly the employers fault. Employers have a legal obligation to prevent preventable injuries and we've known about RSI for at least 20 years now. But I don't think the problem is a callous disregard for health and safety. I just don't think the bosses get it. They don't realise just how painful and debilitating simply using a computer can be. Until they really know what it's like, nothing much will change (after all, the media only started writing about RSI when journalists started getting it). I know how the bosses feel. Even those of us who have experienced it, forget.

I've had RSI on and off since the early 1990s. At first it was so bad that I couldn't work and lost my job. Even now I know I could never go back to regular office hours. (As a freelance I can pace myself and spread out the working day.) But sometimes I forget, overdo it and get a flare-up. The result is an excruciating pain that knocks me for six every time. Your body forgets just how much it hurts - like childbirth, I suppose. Whilst you're going through it, you can't take the lid off a jam-jar or even open a door (again, just like childbirth.) But then you rest, it settles down (unlike childbirth) and over time you forget again.

So shut your boss's hand in the door today. Put his wrist in a vice and turn the handle. Twist his arm behind his back and tie it there for a week. What are these? Dick Cheney's favourite refined interrogation techniques? No, an RSI awareness-raising campaign.

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