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How working from home during this pandemic can cause injuries: A guide for computer users

 

To survive the COVID-19 pandemic, inculcating simple measures such as sitting up straight, taking periodic breaks, exercising, and using an ergonomic friendly workstation at home are as important as sanitizing, washing your hands and masking up!

We are in a new dawn where “Working from Home” or “Living at Work” and “Virtual Learning” has been normalised due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are spending long hours on our Personal Computers (PCs) more than we normally would in a traditional/ physical office or classroom environment. The drawback of this new normal is an increase in Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs) or Repetitive Motion Injury (RMI) resulting from wrong posture when using a PC.

According to a recent survey carried out by Lorna Mutegi, Industry Relations and Executive Education Manager, @iLabAfrica, 90.6% of respondents reported to have experienced pain or discomfort believed to have been caused by long hours of computer use. Back ache was the most common form of pain, followed by pain in the eyes and neck.

Lorna carried out a survey with a community of 53 computer users in Nairobi, comprising students (23) and professionals (30) above the age of 18 years. The survey sought to collect data on respondent’s computer usage behaviour and knowledge of RSIs.

Debilitating effects

Research shows that every computer user (including smartphone users) has or will experience RSI in their computer usage journey. This is because computer usage involves “excessive and repetitious motions of the neck and upper extremity” (Guidotti, 1992). Over the years, there have been growing concerns in the Global North on the impact of RSIs on children, who are the future workers. Bradley, (2001) claims that RSIs resulting from computer use could have debilitating effects on school-going children, resulting in “impairment of a generation of workers before they enter the workplace, if left untreated”.

Following the government’s directive on closure of learning institutions to restrict physical contact, focus has shifted to learning through online platforms. This has exposed many children to long hours of computer use, aggravating the existing parental challenges of limiting screen time.

The survey indicated that 26.4% of the respondents reported being on their PC for 8 hours, 15.1% 6 hours, 11.3% 10 hours, 9.4% 7 hours, 9.4% 6 hours, 5.7% 9 hours and 5.7% spend 15 hours. One respondent reported to have spent 24 hours in one day on a computer!

Therefore, given the current circumstances we are living in, for one to maximise their output and avoid compromising their health, it is important to invest in ergonomic friendly workstations that minimise the risk of exposure to, or the extent of, damage caused by RSIs.

Preventive Measures

Many respondents (71.7%) have not received any formal or informal training on correct posture, crucial to preventing RSIs. With the above information, people working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic should follow ten simple guidelines, though not exhaustive, as a good starting point to help minimise the risk of exposure to, or the extent of, damage caused by RSIs.

    1. Sit up straight! Invest in an ergonomic friendly workstation.
    2. Take micro breaks of 30 seconds to 1 minute every hour, especially if you spend 3 hours or more on your computer.
    3. Maintain at least 45 to 70 cm or 18/24-inch viewing distance from your monitor.
    4. Adjust your (conventional QWERTY) keyboard at elbow level.
    5. Use a “split/angled” keyboard (see Figure 6) which is less strenuous on the wrist.
    6. Ensure your wrist is at neutral position (see Figure 6) when typing.

Figure 6: Qwerty and Angled/Split Keyboards at Neutral Typing Positions. Source: (Szeto & Ng, 2000)

  1. Rest your arm on a gel wrist pad to minimise the tension when using a mouse.
  2. Use keyboard shortcuts to minimise mouse usage.
  3. Invest in a laptop stand.
  4. Exercise, exercise, exercise! It is important to schedule time to exercise, take a walk or do Yoga.

 

This article was written by Lorna Mutegi, Industry Relations and Executive Education Manager, @iLabAfrica Research Centre. 

 

Would you like to share your experience of living through the circumstances brought by the Covid-19 pandemic? Kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu

 

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