Risk Mgmt to improve UA work conditions

By Heather Moore
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 27, 1996

Punching the keys on an adding machine hour after hour, day after day, can be monotonous and it can also be harmful.

Repetitive stress injuries occur from doing the same action over and over. The action is not dangerous in itself, but the repetition over long durations of time can cause damage. Muscles, joints, tendons, or nerves may swell, tingle, and become weak or numb. Not treating this early can result in loss of feeling in the area or chronic pain leading to permanent disability, said Frank Demer, industrial hygienist at the Department of Risk Management and Safety.

Risk Management recently received a $25,000 grant to help improve workplace conditions and reduce repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and some types of lower back pain.

Carpal tunnel syndrome usually occurs in the wrist and arm area and may involve chronic pain or loss of feeling, both associated with nerve damage.

Demer is head of the Ergonomics Relief Fund program, which was started with a grant received from the Risk Management section of the Arizona Department of Administration.

Ergonomics copes with repetitive stress injuries by adapting the tools and working conditions to better suit the worker.

The program is accepting applications and proposals from departments and programs on campus and will distribute funds Thursday through April 1. Demer said they received about 150 applications for departments and individual employees.

Applications submitted have been for new chairs, non-glare computer screens, copy holders and wrist rests, which are padded supports placed front of the keyboard to keep the wrist straight and reduce contact stress.

Demer said that the majority of requests have been from office workers but others can apply.

Some of the ergonomic risk factors include frequent or heavy lifting, making repetitive motions, having unsupported or awkward postures for long periods of time, operating vibrating tools or equipment, and encountering frequent contact stresses, Demer said.

Malcolm Hughes, director of the Tree-Ring Research Laboratory, said they turned in a request for specialized software using operator's voice-recognition commands to reduce keyboard use.

Demer said about 350 people file worker's compensation claims annually at the UA, and his office pays out about $1 million for those claims. He has no way of tracking how many of these cases are repetitive stress injuries, he said, because many of those afflicted see their own physicians and may not necessarily be classified as such. For example, carpal tunnel syndrome may be diagnosed simply as a nerve injury.

Joyce Meder, assistant director of health and wellness, said the Campus Health Center gets paid on a per-patient basis from the state of Arizona through the worker's compensation fund. She said they do not treat many repetitive stress injuries at the center.

"But just because we don't see a lot of them doesn't mean that they are not happening," Meder said.