ABC of Safety in the Biological Sciences




Factors which may precipitate an overuse injury include high frequency of repetition movements, unnecessarily forceful movements, unaccustomed work, prolonged repetitive tasks without rest, constant bracing of support muscles, poor work­station design, excessive job content and poor work practices. Overuse injuries are cumulative injuries and become apparent as pain and weakness of a particular area followed by impaired function.

Overuse injuries are of two main types:


  • Tenosynovitis ­ inflammation of tendon sheaths usually near the wrist.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome ­ pressure applied to median nerve resulting in tingling and numbness of the hand.
  • Epicondylitis ­ inflammation at elbow where muscles of forearm attach to the bone.

Postural injuries
Affecting muscles which help to position hands and head consisting of the neck and shoulder muscles and muscles of the back which maintain a sitting position. Injuries which may occur are:

  • Tension neck syndrome ­ causing pain, stiffness in neck and shoulders, and headache.
  • Shoulder strain ­ causing pain and tenderness of shoulder muscles and stiffness of shoulder joints.
  • Back strain causing feelings of tiredness, weakness and backache.

All overuse injuries are preventable. At the first sign of any of the symptoms mentioned they should be mentioned to your supervisor who should investigate the cause of the problem. Prevention is always better than cure and this applies equally to overuse injuries. Individual work rates must be assessed which are not excessive, rotation of staff to non­repetitive tasks, adequate rest periods and the monitoring of workloads are methods of avoiding overuse injuries. Ergonomic consideration must be given to work place design in relation to chairs, desk or bench height, surfaces, lighting, noise and air conditioning. This list is by no means comprehensive. There are exercises which staff can perform which relieve tension and strain placed on a muscle group. These are detailed under Fatigue and Overwork.

Ring, L. (1988)
An Introduction to Ergonomics.
PO Box 62­0437, Sylvia Park, Auckland, New Zealand.

South Australian Government (1984)
Preventing Repetitive Strain Injuries in Keyboard Operations. An Occupational Health Guide.
South Australian Government Printer, Adelaide, Australia.


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