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Photo of woman holding her wrist above a computer to illustrate why you should avoid assigning repetitive tasks.

In many workplaces, repetitive tasks can be a hazard. When the same movements must be performed over and over, this can raise the risk for occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) or repetitive strain injury (RSI).

Here is what you should know when assigning job tasks. 

What Is OOS/RSI? 

Occupational overuse syndrome or repetitive strain injury most commonly occurs in the hands, wrists, fingers, or elbows. It can also affect the neck, shoulders, or back. Symptoms include pain, swelling, and weakness, typically due to inflamed tendons. Over time, the condition tends to worsen, potentially causing numbness, restricted mobility, and eventually, the inability to continue using the affected joints until the problem is solved. ‘

Can Employees ‘Work Through’ OOS/RSI? 

A common misconception is that it is possible to work through this type of injury, or that it will lessen as the employee gets used to the job. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Resting the affected joint, followed by a change in workstation design, is the best way to treat these injuries. In severe cases, the employee may need medical treatment or physical therapy before returning to the job task. 

Preventing Overuse Injuries 

Any employee who performs repetitive tasks, especially in awkward positions, is at risk for an overuse injury. Risks increase if the workstation is not a good “fit” for the worker’s body. There is also a risk if the tasks require frequent stretching or twisting, or if the employee must keep up with a fast-moving machine. 

There are two main ways to lower the risk for these injuries. First, ensure that all employees are rotating between tasks throughout the day. The more frequent these rotations, the less likely it is that any specific joint or tendon will become overused. 

In addition, do what you can to help employees adjust their workstations to fit their individual needs. For example, you might provide height-adjustable chairs, footstools, and lumbar support cushions. Also, make sure the workstation design keeps all needed items within easy reach. 

Be proactive about workstation safety. Encourage your team members to speak up if they start to develop pain or discomfort from repetitive tasks. Empower them to make minor adjustments to their workstations as needed, and be sure to offer plenty of rest breaks. In most cases, small adaptations can make a huge difference in worker safety and comfort. 

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