Occupational overuse syndrome keyboard operators: Reducing the risk
- Causes of occupational overuse syndrome
- Guidelines for authors
- Guidelines for supervisors and managers
- Guidelines for keyboard operators
- Other issues
- Further information
Occupational overuse syndrome is caused by:
- frequent or repetitive movements (typing for prolonged periods); or
- holding uncomfortable postures for prolonged periods (holding your head at an angle to see past glare on the screen).
- Write legibly using blue or black ink and make all corrections in a contrasting colour.
Provide clear directions regarding layout.
- Get your work into priority order and set realistic deadlines.
- Liaise with the safety and health representative before implementing guidelines.
- Receive all work from authors and return documents if they are not written legibly.
- Negotiate realistic deadlines and priorities with authors to ensure operators are not overloaded.
- Ensure employees new to keyboard work or those returning from an absence of two weeks or more have a suitable period of adjustment before being allocated a full workload of keyboard duties.
- Ensure operators receive adequate training in appropriate work practices, are supplied with appropriate furniture and equipment and are trained to achieve a suitable working posture.
- Ensure operators take rest breaks from keying, either 2-3 minutes in each 15-20 minutes, 5 minutes in each 30 minutes or 10 minutes in each hour. Note: Non-repetitive work may be performed during these breaks. These should not involve frequent or rapid movements of the hands or fingers.
- To reduce the risk it is recommended that operators be given periods of non-repetitive work to limit keyboard tasks to 5 hours per day, 2.5 hours each in the morning and afternoon, with a minimum of 1 hour in between. Overtime is generally considered inappropriate in meeting these guidelines.
- Identify and minimise factors that lead to muscle tension which increases the risk of injury.
- Refer to the National Code of Practice for further information.
- Encourage the early reporting of any symptoms of occupational overuse.
Initiate a work assessment and modification if an operator reports symptoms of occupational overuse.
- If you feel that occupational overuse injury is likely to occur in your work area discuss it with your supervisor and safety and health representative.
- Arrange your work area to ensure all materials, equipment and controls can be easily reached without stretching or twisting.
- Check your posture before commencing keying, and adjust your furniture to enable you to maintain a good posture while keying.
- Start keyboard work slowly each day to warm up to the task, and cool down by reducing your keystroke rate at the end of each day.
- Never accumulate work breaks.
- Report breakdowns or malfunctions of your equipment or furniture immediately to your supervisor.
- Notify your supervisor and safety and health representative then see your doctor should any work related pain or discomfort occur.
4a. A good posture
A good posture is one in which you are comfortable and well supported by properly adjusted furniture. It reduces muscle strain and fatigue. A comfortable viewing distance includes:
- shoulders relaxed;
- elbows level with home row of keys and close to sides of body;
- wrists straight;
- ample leg room;
- balanced, upright head position;
- backrest supports the spine;
- avoid pressure at the front edge of the seat; and
- feet firmly supported.
Note: chairs for most keyboard activities should not have arm rests.
4b. Adjusting your furniture
For fixed height desks:
- Chair height - adjust the chair so that your elbow tips are at the same level as the home row (ASDF) of keys.
- Footstool - adjust the height so that your hips are slightly lower than your knees.
For adjustable height desks:
- Chair height - adjust the chair so that your feet are flat on the floor and your hips are slightly lower than your knees.
- Desk height - adjust the desk so that your elbow tips are at the same level as the home row (ASDF) of keys.
For both types of desks:
- Lumbar support - adjust the height of the back rest to support the lumbar curve (small) of your back. To find your lumbar curve, hold your arms behind your back and comfortably clasp the opposite forearm near the elbow.
- Seat depth - adjust the seat depth so that you are firmly supported by the back rest and can still fit 3 fingers between the front of your seat and the back of your legs.
- Screen - adjust the top of the screen to the level of your eyes with the centre of the VDU screen no higher than 400mm above the work surface. Position the screen at a comfortable viewing distance usually between 400-550mm from the table front edge.
- Document holder - the ideal location for source material is adjacent to the screen
5a. Using a mouse
Many software packages now involve the use of mouses. These have the advantage of reducing the number of key strokes required to perform various functions. However, prolonged use of a mouse can cause discomfort in the arms and shoulders.
- Use the mouse as close to the side of the keyboard as possible.
- Hold the mouse between your thumb and your fourth and fifth fingers. Your second and third fingers should rest lightly on the mouse buttons.
- Use a mouse pad as this makes controlling the mouse easier.
5b. Computer screens and eyesight problems
A complaint sometimes heard from keyboard operators is that looking at screens hurts their eyes or that the screens have caused them to need glasses. Screens can cause visual discomfort from glare or unwanted reflections on the screen, or from sitting at an incorrect distance from the screen, but they do not affect eyesight. When glasses are required it is because sitting at a fixed distance from the screen makes existing problems more noticeable.
- Users of VDU screens should have their eyes tested prior to starting work with VDUs and every two years afterwards if over the age of 40, or whenever problems are experienced.
- If you use glasses, single strength lenses are suggested. Using bi-focal or multi-focal lenses is not recommended.
- Ensure steps are taken to minimise glare.
5c. Laptop or Notebook PCs
Laptop and notebook personal computers are useful for performing computing tasks when away from the office. Prolonged use of these devices is not advisable. The small size of the keyboard, and the position and small size of the screen do not enable users to adopt a good posture.
- When using laptop or notebook PCs in the office, use a full size screen and keyboard.
- If a PC must be regularly used both in the office and in the field, use a desk docking system.
- National Code of Practice for the Prevention of Occupational Overuse Syndrome [NOHSC:2013(1994)] (available at www.ascc.gov.au)
- Guidance Note for the Prevention of Occupational Overuse Syndrome in Keyboard Employment [NOHSC:3005(1996)] (available at www.ascc.gov.au)
- Australian standard AS 3590 Screen-based Workstations (available from Standards Australia, Phone 1300 654 646)
- Australian standard AS 1680 Interior Lighting (available from Standards Australia, Phone 1300 654 646)
- Technical Report of the Study Group On Eyesight Testing of Users of Screen-based Equipment [NOHSC:10004(1992)] (available at www.ascc.gov.au)
- Technical Report Of The Study Group On Radiation And Visual Display Unit (available at www.ascc.gov.au)