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Monday, 25 February 1985
Page: 111

Senator GILES —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. The Minister will be aware that the incidence of repetitive strain injury is approaching epidemic proportions, especially amongst data processors and other keyboard operators. Would the Minister assure the Senate that his Department is taking all possible steps to identify, and provide treatment for, the victims within that Department and to ensure that the working environment is redesigned to eliminate those elements which predispose people to this painful and crippling disease?

Senator GIETZELT —Repetitive strain injuries, as they are commonly known, are a growing problem affecting both the public and private sectors of administration. Clearly, in a big department such as the Department of Veterans' Affairs, which has 12,500 employees, we have major problems associated with this new phenomenon. However, before I make some reference to what steps have been and are being taken in the Department of Veterans' Affairs, I think I might just refer to the rather foolish statement made in Tasmania by a general practitioner who last week suggested that all those people suffering from repetitive strain injuries were, in fact, malingerers and were not justified in seeking any health remedies. He did not produce any evidence to that effect. One can say only that his statement was uninformed and provocative and already has been dismissed by many other prominent members of the medical profession.

In respect of my Department, as of 31 December last we had 165 cases of repetition strain injury, representing 1.5 per cent of the staff. Of course, a number of those have been involved in computer work. They have been working on data processing and word processing machines. Many of those involved as keyboard operators have found the need for some remedial medical assistance as a result of the new technology that operates in many government departments. Therefore, any suggestion, such as that of the Tasmanian doctor, that this is evident only in the public sector is not shown by the medical evidence, not only of other persons involved in the medical profession but also of the Commonwealth Department of Health and the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission.

We have taken steps within the Department to halt the development of RSI that has taken place over the last several years by introducing job rotation, regular change of work or tasks, the need for consistent and regular breaks, specially designed exercises and also specially designed furniture. Currently the Australian Government is involved in the purchase of ergonomic furniture for the express purpose of avoiding the types of injuries that have come to be known as repetition strain injuries.