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Friday, July 16, 1999 Published at 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK

Business: The Economy

Firms face huge RSI payouts

Attitudes to computer use are changing

Fresh evidence that Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) does exist may lead to thousands of office workers being able to claim compensation from their employers.

Dr Bruce Lynn from UCL and employment lawyer Tom Jones discuss the implications of the research
Research published in the UK on Friday suggests RSI may result from nerves in the wrist being trapped or compressed by restriction of movement.

In the past RSI sufferers have had to counter charges that the condition was merely in the mind.

Employment lawyers said the new research should make it easier for people to prove that they are suffering from an injury.

[ image: New evidence of nerve damage in RSI sufferers]
New evidence of nerve damage in RSI sufferers
Tom Jones, an employment expert with law firm Thompsons, said: "For years, RSI sufferers have been dismissed as nutters, but this will bring new hope to them and should strike fear into employers."

A group of Midland Bank (now HSBC) workers recently won a claim for compensation but the bank is appealing against the decision and the case is one of the few to reach court in recent years.

If it is proved to exist, RSI will be one of the biggest industrial diseases of the 1990s, with about 200,000 people taking 10 million days off sick a year because of the condition.

This costs the UK economy £2bn a year, according to national union leaders.

Trapped nerve

Mr Jones added: "This is going to be a body blow for the insurers and the employers who have sniggered at the very notion of repetitive strain injury.

"We have probably turned down thousands of people who have claimed to have a condition which we have not been able to prove there is physical evidence of. This gives them hope."

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy said RSI should now be recognised as an industrial injury to ensure sufferers have access to special treatment.

The University College London research team provided physical evidence that patients had reduced nerve movement when they flexed and extended their wrists.

This suggested that the pain may result from the nerve being trapped or compressed by tendons in the wrist because of restrictions in movement.

Screen breaks

This provides new evidence that the symptoms have a physical cause.

Phil Gray, chief executive of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said: "The weight of scientific evidence that RSI has a physical cause is such that it can no longer be dismissed by sceptics as a figment of the sufferers' imagination.

Mr Gray said employers should be compelled to protect their staff, carry out risk assessments of equipment, including computer screens, and make sure office workers have regular breaks from using computer equipment.

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