|Women Encounter Technology: Changing Patterns of Employment in the Third World (UNU, 1995, 356 pages)|
|13. Gender perspectives on health and safety in information processing|
Some analysis has been carried out to identify the extent to which the incidence of RSI can be related directly to changes in technology and the organization of work. Bammer (1987) argues that there are four causes of repetitive motion injury (an alternative designation to RSI) which can act alone or in combination: repetitive movements; less frequent, but more forceful movements; static loading and awkward body postures. Introduction of VDTs into offices has increased three of these risk factors rapid repetitive movements, static loading and awkward body movements. Soft touch keyboards allow users to attain much higher keystroke rates, and the elimination of other actions such as carriage returns, the application of correction fluid etc. increases the static loading through the prolonged maintenance of keying positions. Badly positioned and unadjustable screens contribute to damaging postures. Additional function keys increase the need to adopt awkward positions - especially of the wrist joints and fifth fingers. Ironically the absence of the fourth risk factor, forceful movements, lessens the risk of tenosynovitis, which is a notifiable industrial injury in the UK and elsewhere.
These findings have encouraged the view that the ergonomic design of workplaces and equipment will eliminate RSI, and reinforce the view that better design is a major reason for the demise of RSI in Australia. However the research also indicates that there are other factors involved, both in the construction of risk and in the predisposition of some people, or people carrying out specific tasks, to RSI. Workers who are in a competitive situation, who are very self motivated and/or workers who are at the end of a rigid hierarchy which leaves them little room for autonomy over the pace of their work, the timing or rest breaks, or decisions over which work should have highest priority are likely to be particularly vulnerable. Women in subordinate data entry jobs have limited autonomy not only in terms of the allocation of their time, but also in terms of their space and their physical mobility (Meekosha and Jakubowicz, 1986).5
It is too soon to ascertain whether improved workplace and equipment design, combined with consciousness of the importance of task diversity and breaks from continuous keying, will eliminate the risk factor even for those workers with the predispositions described above.