An enormous percentage of the workforce in America spends their days on the job sitting. What’s more, the majority of these workers are not only sitting but are using a computer to perform their tasks.
While a computer is a necessity in today’s day and age, working at a computer for hours on end isn’t always beneficial for health. In fact, some computer-related injuries are work injuries that affect hundreds of workers every year. This article takes a look at the most common computer-related injuries, as well as tips for avoiding them.
Common Types of Injuries in the Office Environment
You may not think that an office poses injury risks, but everyday work activities and circumstances can lead to injuries and illnesses for office workers. Below are some of the most common injuries that occur in the office environment.
- Falls -- Falls are, by far, the leading cause of office worker injury. Hazards can come in myriad forms, such as boxes not put away, unsecured carpets or rugs, slippery floors, poor lighting, and wires and cords in footpaths.
- Lifting injuries -- It’s easy to injure your back or neck if you don’t use proper lifting techniques, overextend yourself or try to lift more that you can handle. New office equipment, boxes of reams of paper or lifting a computer monitor can cause back sprains or strains.
- Injuries from stationary objects -- Random objects and equipment can pose risk, too. For instance, workers can be struck by objects, have their fingers caught and crushed in office equipment, run into filing cabinets, or get hair caught in machines.
- Overuse injuries -- Overuse injuries can be painful, lasting and debilitating. They can occur from sitting too long in any position (such as at a computer desk) or doing the same task over and over (such as typing).
Eyestrain and Computer Vision Syndrome
Staring at a computer screen for hours at a time can cause a severe strain on the eyes. Eyestrain refers to a condition of eye fatigue caused by overuse, typically from staring for too long.
The symptoms of eyestrain include the following.
- Sore eyes
- Sore neck/shoulders
- Sensitivity to light
- Trouble concentrating
While eyestrain in itself isn’t serious—just uncomfortable—it can be related to another complication known as computer vision syndrome (CVS). Also referred to as digital eye strain, computer vision syndrome doesn’t cause permanent eye damage. However, it can make working with a computer unbearable and may lead to discomfort and physical pain.
Tips for alleviating eyestrain and computer vision syndrome include:
- Changing the location of your computer screen so that your eyes look at the monitor downward at an angle of four to five inches
- Changing lighting to avoid glare, including closing window blinds or turning off lights
- Using an anti-glare display
- Blinking frequently - many people inadvertently stare at screens and allow their eyes to dry out
- Taking frequent rest breaks - 10 seconds every 10 minutes to refocus your eyes in the distance and 10 minutes “walking around time” every two hours
Shoulder, Back, and Neck Pain
Spending long hours sitting at a desk and hunched over a computer is a recipe for shoulder, back, and neck pain. In fact, just using a computer mouse can cause a repetitive strain injury in the shoulder. Shoulder, back, and neck pain can be challenging to live with, and can impair your ability to perform other activities or be as productive as you’d like.
Luckily, most shoulder, back, and neck pain that results from working at a computer is entirely avoidable by utilizing the following preventative measures:
- Plant your feet firmly on the ground when working at your computer
- Sit upright with your spine straight
- Relax your shoulders
- Keep your wrists and hands in line with your forearms
The Importance of Breaks
When you sit at a computer for many hours per day, you are at risk for overuse injuries. These can occur to your elbows, wrists and hands. They are typically due to repetitive use of the keyboard and mouse, and can develop into carpal tunnel syndrome. This is an especially significant danger for those who do not take breaks, eat through their lunch and stay hunched over their computer all day long.
Just like you can prevent serious injury from occurring on job sites by following certain safety precautions, you can prevent them while working in an office. Try to set up your workstation to be ergonomically correct. This means making sure that your monitor is at an appropriate level to ensure that you do not have to hunch over or look up to see it. The same is true for your mouse and keyboard - they should be easy to reach and not cause strain on the muscles. Your feet should be flat on the floor and your arms should be at a comfortable position all day.
In addition to setting up an ergonomic workstation, it is important to take frequent breaks. This means not working through lunch and getting up from your chair every couple of hours. Even if you only look away from the computer or walk away for a minute or two, it is enough to give your muscles a break. If you are able, try to stretch your back, arms and legs to ensure that they are fully capable of handling the stress of working on the computer all day, allowing you to avoid workers' compensation injuries in Iowa.
Sitting for extended periods of time has been linked to other health complications, and may decrease longevity. Standing while working, or taking short walks every hour may help to improve health. There are also some home therapies for work-related neck pain sufferers.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is an acute computer-related injury that may require medical intervention to correct. The condition is characterized by pressure on the median nerve in the wrist that travels up the forearm.
You’ll know you are getting carpal tunnel syndrome when the following happens:
- You feel persistent numbness or tingling down the length of your arm after you have used the computer for a long period of time.
- It is difficult for you to grasp small things in your hand.
- Your shoulder hurts.
Excessive typing or computer mouse use may cause carpal tunnel syndrome, as it is a repetitive motion injury.
When the condition is not severe, non-surgical treatment options may be pursued, including the following:
- Stretches for the forearm, wrist and fingers
- NSAID drugs
When the condition is more severe, the patient may need to undergo surgery to correct it. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke recommends taking frequent rest breaks, stretching, and using correct posture and wrist positions as tips for preventing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Will workers’ compensation pay for computer-related injuries?
Workers’ compensation insurance is designed to provide compensation to employees who are injured while performing a work-related task. If you require medical intervention or time off work, and if it is directly related to an injury caused by an on-the-job event or function, then you may be entitled to workers’ compensation insurance.
To learn more about computer-related injuries and when your employer’s workers’ compensation may be applicable, speak with an attorney. At Walker, Billingsley & Bair. We’re ready to meet with you to discuss your case today. Contact us at (888) 435-9886 to learn more now.