An article in January’s Editor & Publisher, a journal that reports on the newspaper industry, asks whatever happened to the carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and the other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that plagued newsrooms in the late 1980s and 1990s. Several individuals responded to the question, crediting ergonomics policy for improvements, but one sees no reason to applaud.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, there was an epidemic of MSDs, which included repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) as well as CTS. An article in the July 1991 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), which monitors the Media, described RSI as the nation’s leading work-related illness. The Director of Research and Information for The Newspaper Guild at the time, David J. Eisen, told the CJR that his organization had logged nearly 3,000 cases of RSI among employees in the Canadian and United States news industries. And he said he believed the figure represented only a fraction of the total.
In its capsule history of the changes, the Editor & Publisher article explained that when computers first invaded newsrooms and other office settings, gains made in productivity appeared threatened by a rash of reported MSDs. The newspaper industry saw the problem in terms of liability and potential lawsuits from employees. Unions saw MSDs as a bargaining chip, and argued for better ergonomics as part of employment packages to prevent the disorders.
Then the furor just stopped, the article noted. The Newspaper Association of America no longer monitors MSDs in newsrooms, and the Newspaper Guild’s national expert on MSDs retired years ago and was never replaced. Even the federal government’s workplace health research arm, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), has stopped tracking CTS. A NIOSH spokesman told Editor & Publisher that the “last stuff we have (on CTS) dates back to