Page last updated at 00:39 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

'No progress' over RSI injuries

Repetitive strain injury
RSI can be debilitating

Businesses and the government need to do more to protect workers from repetitive strain injury, physiotherapists say.

Official figures show the rate of RSI has hardly changed in the past six years, with more than 200,000 sufferers a year in the UK.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy wants employers to be compelled to provide occupational health services.

But business leaders said firms were already taking action.

RSI covers a range of musculoskeletal problems in the upper limbs and neck.

An analysis of figures from the Health and Safety Executive by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy found that injuries were most common in building trades, health and social care and among factory workers.

There has been little improvement despite the increasing focus on workplace health
Pauline Cole, of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy

The group has estimated that RSI costs businesses 300m a year in lost working time, sick pay and administration.

Those affected take an average of 13 days off work each year, meaning that overall nearly three million working days are lost annually in the UK.

But the physiotherapists are most concerned because the HSE figures suggest the situation is not getting significantly better.

In 2007-8, 213,000 people in work had RSI problems that were caused or made worse by work - of these 81,000 were new cases.

This compared to 222,000 in 2001-2 - of which 87,000 were new cases.

Pauline Cole, an occupational health expert at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said: "There has been little improvement despite the increasing focus on workplace health.

"Government and businesses need to do more to tackle this problem."

'Preventable condition'

She called for a statutory duty to be placed on employers to provide occupational health services and suggested the government offer tax relief to businesses to help them to do so.

"We may then, after the frustration of many years of no progress, begin to see some reduction in the rates of this almost completely preventable condition."

The call follows the report last year by Dame Carol Black, the government's national director for health and work, which called for business to do more to tackle illness and promote healthy lifestyles.

The Confederation of British Industry said occupational health was something in which firms were beginning to invest more.

John Cridland, deputy director-general of the CBI, said: "Businesses take the wellbeing of their staff and the issue of RSI very seriously.

"Our own research shows that seven out of 10 employers already offer occupational health support to staff.

"However, placing a statutory requirement on all employers would place a huge burden on businesses, especially small and medium-sized firms, which are already struggling during the recession.

"Instead, the focus should be on improving information and support on appropriate prevention strategies."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said that, despite the absence of a statutory duty, the government still took occupational health "very seriously".

She said that since Dame Carol Black's review there had been a big emphasis on the issue and pilot schemes would start later this year to make access to work-related health support more widely available.

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