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Repetitive Strain Injuries in the Workplace

ergonomics health and safety Feb 24, 2023
Repetitive strain injuries in the workplace


Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a general term used to describe injuries to the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, and other soft tissues. These injuries often occur when awkward motions are repeated for an extended period of time, and they have the potential to develop into Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Tendinitis. Almost all work involves the use of the arms and hands, so the most common MSDs affect the upper extremities.1

A work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WSMD) is an MSD that is caused or exacerbated by environmental or job-related factors in the workplace. WMSDs are considered a workplace health and safety issue because they are closely connected to workplace hazards. MSDs account for a significant portion (approximately one-third) of all accepted WSIB lost time claims. In 2017 alone, there were 19,000 claims, 462,000 days lost from work, and $72 million in direct WSIB costs.2

A Repetitive Strain Injury can have a significant impact on an employee’s ability to do their job and their overall quality of life. Employers are legally required to make their workers aware of RSI risks and take every reasonable precaution to protect their staff from injury in the workplace. 


What Causes a Repetitive Strain Injury?

  • Force (especially when focused on small body parts such as the wrist)
  • Awkward posture
  • Static body posture
  • Repetition (if it does not allow sufficient recovery time between movements)
  • Long duration and fast pace
  • Temperature (extreme heat or cold)
  • Vibrations

MSDs often occur as a result of a combination of these factors occurring simultaneously, not individually.


Common Symptoms:
  • Pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscle tightness
  • Redness of area
  • Swelling of impacted area
  • Pins and needles sensation
  • Numbness
  • Skin colour change
  • Decreased sweating of the hands

These symptoms may occur concurrently or independently in a range from mild to severe. In an early stage, an employee may feel aching and tired feelings of the impacted limb while working only and would not experience any change in their levels of performance. In an intermediate stage, the worker would have similar aching and tiredness, but it would continue when they were not working and would influence their repetitive work capacity. In a late stage, weakness, fatigue, and aching would persist in a resting state and would impact the worker’s ability to sleep and complete light duties.


How Employers Can Prevent Repetitive Strain Injuries in the Workplace

A fundamental principle of occupational health and safety is to eliminate hazards at their source. Ergonomics and provision of a solid ergonomic risk assessment of the work duties can reduce the hazards.

  1. Implement musculoskeletal injury prevention policies and procedures.
  2. Have an ergonomic risk assessment completed in the workplace.
  3. Educate employees on early identification of RSIs and how to make ergonomic adjustments for preventing RSIs.
  4. Educate managers and health and safety staff on ways to address the risks.
  5. Engage employees in the solutions (participatory ergonomics works!)
  6. Alter elements of the job design (e.g., implement job rotation, increase task variety, alter the tools, change worker habits, etc.)
  7. Collect data on how MSD and RSI incidents are impacting your workplace to support continued prevention efforts and engage leadership in developing solutions.
  8. Contact Gowan Consulting for your workplace ergonomics needs. Our Occupational Therapists can complete an in-person or virtual ergonomic assessment for individuals or an Ergoblast session for all your employees.


How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Gowan Consulting specializes in the area of Occupational Therapy. We have Occupational Therapists all over Canada that can assist with making your workplace healthier. We can assist with anything from ergonomic assessments to mental health to workplace accommodations and return to work. Make a referral to see how we can help with your workplace concerns.

You can also check out our training catalogue, which includes live workshops, certificate programs, and recorded webinars for employees and employers. Or set up a consultation with us to develop a customized session or program for your workplace needs.

Looking for sustainable training and support for program development for your organization? Our membership program is for you! Sign up today or email us to get a free trial of our upcoming webinar.

For more on all we have to offer, contact us! We want to help make the difference in your healthy business.



[1] Government of Canada, C. C. for O. H. and S. (2023, February 23). Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (wmsds): Osh answers. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Retrieved February 23, 2023, from

[2] Compliance blitz results: Healthy Workers in healthy workplaces. (n.d.). Retrieved February 23, 2023, from