19 June 1995

To: All UNDP/UNFPA Staff -Headquarters and Country Offices
From: Robin Kinloch
Division of Personnel
Subject: Repetitive Stress Injury/Cumulative Trauma Disorder

UNDP/UNFPA staff members increasingly use personal computers in their work and should be aware of potential computer-related health problems known as Repetitive Stress Injury/Cumulative Trauma Disorders. These problems are manifested differently in the form of eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis. Preventive measures can avoid potential pain and medical care costs. Most preventive measures relate to adjusting equipment, work habits and the work environment.

The height of the chair is critical. It should be adjusted to ensure that the angle of the knee is at about 90 degrees, and that the entire sole of the foot can easily rest on the floor. A foot rest may be needed for short individuals.

The keyboard should be adjustable and be set at the right height for the operator and proper angle, both of which are critical for comfort. The test is that wrists do not bend.

Intensity of light reflected from the screen should be adjusted to a good contrast between characters and background. Avoid reflections from direct light from windows, ceiling lights, or lamps into the screen; their glare causes eye fatigue.

Good posture is essential. The back should be straight, at a parallel angle to the computer screen, which ideally should be at eye level or slightly lower, 18 - 24 inches away. The monitor should be adjusted to the most comfortable position for the neck.

When typing, hands should be kept at their natural line, wrists hanging freely in a float position, to avoid the elbow being used as hand rest. Fingers should be relaxed, have a curve and move freely, knuckles tilted, and the thumb should also be relaxed to prevent exhaustion. Avoid squeezing the mouse.

Frequent breaks from typing are necessary. Typing stretches should not exceed 45 minutes without a break. An average of 10-20 minutes breaks are recommended for morning and afternoon. Short breaks of 10-15 seconds are also very useful.

Some companies are producing ergonomic equipment such as special keyboards, desks, wrist pads and other items, to reduce risks of computer-related muscular problems. These products should bear labels indicating that they are ergonomic products and meet the standards set by ergonomic specialists.

In case pain is experienced, a physician's advice is recommended. Often physicians suggest exercises, which may include squeezing tennis balls for exercising hands.

Further information may be obtained from reference material available at the UNDP Reference Unit. Interested staff may seek other sources of information.

Ergonome (145 West 96th St. New York, NY 10025, tel. 212-222 9600) has published an excellent book listed below and is currently developing special software for prevention of repetitive stress injuries. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226, Tel. 513-533 8287) has excellent material on the subject. The U.S. Department of Labor has regional offices for Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In the New York area, information may be obtained from OSHA, 201 Varick Street, Room 670, New York, N.Y. 10014, Tel. 212 337 2378. Cybernetic networks such as Internet, Compuserve etc. can be accessed for information as well.

Suggested Background Reading Material

Brown, Stephanie, The Hand Book, Ergonome Incorporated, 145 West 96th St., New York, NY 10025, 1992.

NIOSH. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Selected References, US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centres for Disease Control, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health , Cincinnati, Ohio, March 1989.

OSHA. Working Safely with Video Display Terminals, U.S. Department of labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 1991 (Revised) OSHA 3092.

Pascarelli, Emil, MD and Quilter, Deborah, Repetitive Strain Injury, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1994.

World Health Organization. Visual Display Terminals and Worker's Health, WHO, Geneva, Switzerland, 1987, (WHO Offset Publication No.99).