The list of companies, organizations and government departments in United States and elsewhere that have moved call centers and services to the thriving IT sector in India is long and growing longer. A new survey suggests that Indian IT workers are paying a stiff cost for this outsourcing trend, with significant numbers of them suffering ergonomics-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Dr. Deepak Sharan, the medical director of the RECOUP Neuromusculoskeletal Rehabilitation Centre in Bangalore, has conducted a study of IT professionals in the city over the last seven years. He found that 75 per cent of the 30,000 individuals in his ongoing study in India’s “Silicon Valley” is afflicted with musculoskeletal symptoms related to their work.
In nearly 60 percent of cases, it was the neck and upper back that were affected. In 40 percent it was the lower back. Thirty percent had pain in an upper extremity. In 20 percent of the cases it was a generalized disorder associated with constant pain and numbness. In an article about the findings in India Today, two of the main causes were identified as wrong postures and insufficient knowledge of workplace ergonomics.
The newspaper article noted that most Indian companies follow ergonomics recommendation from American or European countries, ignoring the fact that an average Indian is at least five inches shorter than his Western counterpart.
Dr. Sharan described the disorder as multi-factorial. “It is not always to do with long hours in front of the computer. Many get it in spite of just checking emails on their laptops,” he told the newspaper. Psycho-social factors also play a big role, and many times stress can worsen the situation, he added.
Commenting on the report in the British technology publication, The Inquirer, Dr. Sharan said Indian firms don’t care about the painful musculoskeletal condition. Referring to the Indian IT trade association, Dr. Sharan said, “NASSCOM doesn’t care and most IT/BPO companies in India try their best to sabotage any health and safety research studies for fear of adverse publicity – especially in the USA.”
The article said NASSCOM declined to comment on the study, and that it anticipates making US 64 billion in 2008.
In the Inquirer article, Dr. Sharan said most Indian computer users first hear of RSI (repetitive strain injury, an MSD), only after being severely afflicted by it, sometimes several months after losing their jobs because of it. “Some Indian companies have dangerous working conditions and it is not unusual to have medical transcriptionists working all night without breaks hunched over on dinner tables and non-adjustable plastic chairs or stools, sometimes using their feet to operate the mouse once their hands are crippled by pain,” Sharan added.
Indian employees can’t seek compensation for RSI injuries, he said, so companies don’t consider ergonomics. When they do, they follow Western practices that were designed for typically taller people. There is a skills shortage in India, but companies are more inclined to pay high salaries than consider how their workstations are designed.”
Dr. Sharan pointed out that this apathy is not universal, and listed some 60 IT corporations that pay close attention to ergonomics and the MSD issue.
Sources: India Today; The Inquirer