Is your dental practice doing everything to protect staff from RSI?

Last year nearly 4 million working days were lost in the UK because of work-related upper limb disorders.

This accounts for nearly a quarter of a million workers, who in 2017 had to take an average of 17.2 days off work, according to the Health & Safety Executive which compiled the figures

One of the most common disorders, is repetitive strain injury, or RSI.

It is also known as non-specific upper limb pain and affects the upper body, such as the forearms and elbows, wrists and hand, neck and shoulders.

Symptoms include pain, aching or tenderness, stiffness, throbbing, tingling or numbness, weakness and cramp. They can range from mild to severe and will usually develop gradually.

What causes RSI

Doing a high-intensity activity for a long time, and doing that activity while posture is poor or the body is in an awkward position can cause RSI. Working in a cold environment and having to use vibrating equipment will increase the risk of RSI, stress can also make it worse.

How to prevent it

Dental professionals are at particular risk of developing RSI, because they carry out repetitive, high intensity tasks.

Receptionists and admin staff will also be at risk, especially if they are sitting at a desk typing for long periods of time.

There are ways you can help prevent your staff from developing RSI. When an employee joins your practice you need to carry out a risk assessment, ideally with the advice of an occupational therapist. The assessment can help ensure their work area is suitable and comfortable for them.

For example:

  • A receptionist who sits at a desk and types or answers the phone all day will need to sit correctly and take regular breaks. Their seat, keyboard and mouse [if they use one] will need to be positioned correctly
  • A dentist/hygienist will need to use appropriate equipment to help counteract poor posture or some of the more awkward positions occasionally needed to treat patients.
  • All staff should be encouraged to take small, frequent breaks and use relaxation techniques. Stress can lead to tense muscles which in turn can exacerbate RSI.
  • Staff with pre-existing medical conditions. New employees who may have back or neck issues, perhaps resulting from surgery, an accident or biomechanical issues may also need to be assessed, as they may be more likely to develop RSI.

Specialist equipment - aimed at preventing RSI

Ergonomic equipment designed to ease strain on nerves, tendons and muscles can help reduce the risk of RSI.

There are several hand-related pieces of equipment that are ergonomically shaped to fit the hand more naturally to reduce the risks of RSI and other conditions. Many pieces of everyday dentistry equipment have softer grips aimed at reducing fatigue.

These can include bone files, mouth mirrors, spatulas and scalers.

An ergonomic saddle seat can help make a dental professional comfortable during long periods where sitting is needed.

Speak to your Dental Director representative, who will not only be able to offer guidance on equipment but also what maintenance and after care is needed to keep the equipment safe and functional.

If a member of staff already has RSI

You need to identify what is causing the RSI and make sure the employee avoids doing the activity altogether.

If you are not sure get immediate advice from a physiotherapist.

In the meantime symptoms can be relieved by anti-inflammatory painkillers - aspirin or ibuprofen. A heat or cold pack [take advice from physiotherapist] applied to the area can also help. An elastic support or splint might be necessary.

Longer term treatment will need to include some form of physiotherapy. They will also be able to give advice on posture and how to strengthen or relax muscles to prevent further symptoms. Other therapy might also be able to help, such as massage, yoga, pilates or osteopathy.

Investing in your equipment means investing in your practice

Investing in equipment that prevents strain and injury is in your practice’s and patient’s interests.
Scott Selbie, equipment sales manager at DD, says: “A lot of dentists will invest over £20,000 in a dental chair but will themselves buy a cheap stool which they sit in day after day.
“It’s all very well to think about what is best for the patient but the dental professional needs to consider their environment, because without them there are no patients.”

DD has a dedicated equipment department which supplies, installs and maintains everything from dental chairs and cabinetry through to the latest digital imaging systems and specialist product catalogues featuring orthodontic, oral hygiene and facial aesthetic product ranges.

It was founded nearly 50 years ago and now employs over 600 people across the UK, including a state-of-the-art automated warehouse at the head office in Witham, Essex, which houses more than 27,000 product lines.
As a member of the British Dental Industry Association, DD supports the industry’s Counterfeit and Substandard Instruments and Device Initiative (CSIDI).