Repetitive strain injury among South African employees : prevalence and the relationship with exhaustion and work engagement
The work environment of today is synonymous with stress, fatigue and exhaustion. As a result, the incidence of workplace injury and disease is increasingly commonplace. Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is the most common form of work–related ill–health. If the symptoms are not recognised and addressed early, serious and more chronic manifestations of the symptoms can emerge, subsequently affecting the quality and duration of a persons' working life. RSI also has significant implications for organisations in terms of lost productivity, drops in work quality and costly compensation claims. Although there is ongoing international research available concerning workplace injury and disease to inform business and the employee, there is less comprehensive and regularly updated research within the South African context. Considering employers can be held accountable for diseases that have arisen out of and in the course of an individual's employment, this research adds value in ascertaining the magnitude of RSI in South Africa. Bearing in mind international research has expanded its focus to include the potential influence of ergonomic and psychosocial factors in the development of RSI, it has become necessary to consider additional factors that may play a role in the development and maintenance of RSI. The objectives of this study were to 1) determine the frequency of RSI experienced amongst South African employees; 2) examine the frequency of RSI across three well–being groups; and 3) identify whether there are significant differences across the three well–being groups. An availability sample (N = 15 664) was utilised to determine the frequency of experience of RSI in a sample of South African employees. Frequencies were used to determine the incidence of RSI symptoms for the total sample. Participants were then selected into groups based on their experience of vitality, work devotion and exhaustion (n = 4 411) in order to determine the frequency of RSI experienced for three well–being groups. ANOVA was used to determine if there were significant RSI differences between these three well–being groups. The results of this study highlight that RSI is prevalent amongst the South African population. Of those participants who responded 'sometimes' and 'frequently' (experiencing RSI), 47% indicated experiencing neck, shoulder and back discomfort, followed by 42% reporting eyestrain, and 24% muscle stiffness. These results are comparable with international statistics, indicating that a relatively large percentage of South African employees experience RSI. The results further showed that the frequency of experience of RSI symptoms does differ across the three well–being groups. It is evident that RSI is more prevalent in the well–being group that demonstrates vital exhaustion when compared to those who are work engaged yet exhausted, and those who are truly work engaged. Secondly, the results clearly revealed statistically significant differences between all of these groups. Thus, those individuals who are vitally exhausted experience significantly greater RSI symptoms than those who are truly work engaged or engaged with exhaustion. In addition, those individuals who are work engaged with exhaustion demonstrate significantly more RSI symptoms than those who are truly work engaged. Thus, this study suggests the potential role of exhaustion in the development of RSI. Recommendations were made for the organisation and for future research.