These days, in my place of work, there are not many ways to get injured by merely sitting at my desk. It’s not as though I work in an industrial setting where accidents occur more frequently. However, I have learned that is not necessarily true, as there are many injuries I could sustain by sitting at a desk behind a computer for forty-plus hours a week. The following list includes a few potential desk job injuries one could incur, such as:

  • Eye strain (The Mayo Clinic states, “Eyestrain is a common condition that occurs when your eyes get tired from intense use, such as while driving long distances or staring at computer screens and other digital devices,”.)
  • Low back pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Repetitive strain injury (injury to part of the musculoskeletal or nervous system caused by repetitive use, vibrations, compression, or long periods in a fixed position)
  • Shoulder problems (common neck and shoulder pain occupations are office and computer-based jobs because sitting at a desk for long periods puts strain on the neck and shoulders by holding up the weight of the human head)
  • Tendinopathy
  • Tennis elbow (typing, writing, and using a mouse extensively throughout the day utilizes the wrist extensor muscles on the outside of the forearm)
  • Hand injuries
  • Neck pain
  • Herniated disk
  • Hip flexors (when sitting for long periods, these muscles are exceptionally prone to becoming tight and increasing the risk of low back pain)
  • Mouse shoulder
  • Poor sitting posture
  • Dislocated joints
  • Sedentary lifestyle and chronic diseases (could develop cardiovascular disease from a lack of physical activity)
  • Trigger finger

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) affect the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons. Workers in many different industries and occupations can be exposed to risk factors at work, such as lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in awkward body postures and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively. Exposure to these known risk factors for MSDs increases a worker’s risk of injury. Work-related MSDs can be prevented. Ergonomics — fitting a job to a person — helps lessen muscle fatigue, increases productivity and reduces the number and severity of work-related MSDs,”.

Working in awkward body postures and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively is precisely what I do on a daily basis as a writer. I must remember to set a timer to get up and stretch every hour on the hour, no matter what.

How common are work-related injuries?

Before becoming a professional writer, I waited tables and bartended for many years, so I am no stranger to work-related injuries. Throughout those years, I sustained injuries from falling on slippery floors in the kitchen or near the dishwasher, rotator cuff, and wrist injuries from carrying heavy trays full of food or drinks (either above my head or by balancing all the weight on my wrist and forearm), low back injuries from carrying cases or kegs of beer, knee and foot injuries from being on my feet for hours at a time, the intense stress and constant sense of urgency– the list could go on. Let’s hear what the experts have to say.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there were 5,486 fatal work injuries recorded in the United States in 2022, a 5.7-percent increase from 5,190 in 2021. The fatal work injury rate was 3.7 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, up from 3.6 per 100,000 FTE in 2021.

The National Safety Council shows the following as the top work-related injury causes:

  1. Exposure to electricity
  2. Exposure to radiation and noise
  3. Exposure to temperature extremes
  4. Exposure to air and water pressure change
  5. Exposure to other harmful substances
  6. Exposure to oxygen deficiency
  7. Exposure to traumatic or stressful events

Beyond these alarming statistics and specific injuries, workers in all environments need to be proactive about their health and safety.

How can we prevent injuries at work?

Suppose I can try to utilize a chair that supports the natural curve of the spine, position the computer screen at eye level, and use a keyboard that allows the wrists to remain in a neutral position. In that case, I can hopefully avoid chronic pain. Again, the value of taking short, frequent breaks to stand, stretch, and move around mustn’t be overstated.

A technique known as the 20-20-20 rule can be beneficial for those experiencing eye strain: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus on something 20 feet away. This simple practice can help alleviate the intense visual demands placed on your eyes and reduce the overall risk of eye strain. I will definitely be incorporating this one!

For those in more physically demanding roles, such as in construction or healthcare, understanding proper lifting techniques is crucial. Moreover, teamwork in lifting and utilizing tools like hoists and lift assists prevents injuries from overexertion.

Another critical facet is cultivating an environment of safety and health awareness through regular training programs, and accessible resources that keep all employees informed about potential risks and how to mitigate them. Encouraging a culture where workers feel comfortable reporting unsafe conditions or potential hazards also plays a crucial role.

Technology can further augment safety measures with wearable devices that monitor ergonomic posture or detect when a worker is lifting inappropriately and can provide immediate feedback, allowing for corrective actions to be taken before an injury occurs. Additionally, advanced data analytics can help predict and identify high-risk scenarios, enabling preventative steps to be implemented.

Mental health has a critical intersection with physical health in the workplace. Exposure to traumatic or stressful events, as mentioned, can lead to conditions like anxiety, depression, or PTSD, which, in turn, can affect physical health by contributing to conditions such as high blood pressure or heart disease. Ensuring that there are support systems in place, such as counseling services or stress management programs, can help maintain both mental and physical well-being.

What are the common causes of work-related injuries?

In conclusion, whether one is working in an office setting, a restaurant, or an industrial environment, awareness, and proactive measures are the keystones to preventing work-related injuries. By investing in the well-being of employees, companies can not only reduce the incidence of injuries but also enhance overall productivity and job satisfaction.