Study Links Stress to Computer Motion Injruies

Article excerpt

By Carl T. Hall

San Francisco Chronicle

Work practices and oneb stress appear to contribute significantly to the spread of repetitiveress injury among computer operators, according to a government study of telephone workers.

Besides physical factors _ how chairs, desks and lighting are set up _ the study, conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, linked injuries with a host of what it called "psychosocial" causes, such as job insecurity, high productivity demands, surges in workload and lack of control over work methods.

Previous research has established clear links between stress and physical ailments, although exactly how mental state affects physical welling is not well understood.

The new study is among the most comprehensive done on an increasingly common workplace hazard bedeviling the computer age. It is also among the first to zero in on links between particular types of oneb stress and the repetitiveress injury problem. It did not delve into the physiological processes involved.

Researchers spent three years studying a group of 533 employees at Denversed US West, one of the seven Bell regional operating companies. The study was commissioned jointly by US West and the 600,000-member Communications Workers of America.

US West is considered among the most advanced employers in the country in providing state-ofet computer equipment. But the government researchers found that an abnormally high 22 percent of the US West employees it studied had repetitiveress injury.

The percentage rose as high as 36 percent among workers who program telephone services for customers. It was as low as 6 percent among service representatives who field queries from customers _ but even that ratio is twice the percentage considered normal.

Repetitiveress injury, also called repetitivetion injury, includes a variety of ailments affecting the musculoskeletal system of the upper body. Typical symptoms among VDT operators include soreness or numbness in wrists, hands or fingers, elbow, neck or shoulder pain and eye strain. Troubles can range from mild discomfort to chronic, careerding pain.

Virtually all industries that make heavy use of VDTs _ including financial institutions, government agencies and newspaper publishers _ have been afflicted. Some estimate that more than 50 million American workers are at risk. …