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
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
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. …