Nearly 40,000 factory workers, skilled tradesmen and professionals in the West Midlands have developed repetitive strain injuries, according to figures published today.
The cost to the region's economy could "easily run into millions" if employers fail to implement necessary health and safety checks to ensure workers are not put at risk of RSI, business officials warned.
Nearly one per cent (0.99) of the West Midlands' workforce, about 39,000 people, have reported musculoskeletal problems with their neck, arms, hands or fingers – caused or made worse by their job.
The region is ranked fifth out of 11 areas in Britain, with the North-east being the worst where 1.3 per cent of employees have been diagnosed with RSI, while in London only 0.59 per cent have the condition.
Sarah Bazin, chair of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists which released the statistics, said the cost to industry was "totally unnecessary as RSI can often be avoided". Ms Bazin, who is also head of physiotherapy at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust in Birmingham, added: "Some employers are taking their workers for granted and wonder why this should be any kind of problem at all.
"People do seem to be glued to their workstations, their computers, as they work longer hours, but it's not just office workers who are affected.
"I think people want to keep on working but this culture of blame makes many think they can't afford to speak up."
Nationally 375,000 cases of RSI have been reported, representing 0.87 per cent of the British workforce, costing employers an estimated #300 million in lost time, sick pay and administration.
John Lamb, spokesman for Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said employers had to take the issue seriously.
He said: "One per cent of the region's workforce does not sound like much, but the impact of 39,000 employees suffering from RSI, on long term sick leave, legal proceedings and associated costs should not be underrated.
"The cost to our economy could easily run into millions of pounds.
"Businesses must take the health and safety of their workforce very seriously, and any that don't are being very foolish."
RSI does not just affect employees' performance at work, it also makes everyday tasks at home a challenge. Ahead of RSI Awareness Day on Saturday, the CSP is urging people to report any pain or discomfort to bosses, as the condition is easier to treat in its early stages.
Ms Bazin added: "Carpenters, assembly line workers, in fact any trade where a lot of time is spent using your hands to push or pull things in order to do a job are at risk of developing RSI.
"This condition really does stop people in their tracks as they can't really do much once it's taken hold of their hands and arms.
"Picking up a cup of tea or a newspaper can become a major task, it can be very difficult, and can affect all areas of people's lives."
RSI – repetitive strain injury – is described as an overuse injury which most commonly affects workers who use keyboards, machinists, assembly line workers and musicians
Early symptoms include mild twinges or occasional numbness, but these can lead to constant pain and difficulty in performing daily tasks
Over time RSI leads to debilitating pain and weakness in the wrists and fingers
There are two kinds of RSI. Type 1 is often linked with swelling, deformation and dysfunction, while Type 2 is harder to diagnose but has been linked to intense keyboard and mouse use