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Sign Language Interpreters at a High Ergonomic Risk

Bar Camp LeedsScience Daily reports of research that sign language interpreting comes with a high risk from RSI (or similar), following research from RIT’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering:

The research indicates that interpreting causes more physical stress to the extremities than high-risk tasks conducted in industrial settings, including assembly line work. It also found a direct link between an increase in the mental and cognitive stress of the interpreter and an increase in the risk of musculoskeletal injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.

And goes onto state:

“The impact of repetitive stress in industrial and office settings has been well documented, but there is less data on the risk of ergonomic injury to sign language interpreters,” ..... “Our findings indicate that interpreters may actually be at a higher risk of injury than other professions.”

This research has to be welcomed as a health and safety measure, and lends weight to the associated risks of the profession. However, does this mean any injury related insurance premiums might take a hike?

Ask the readers:
Do you get RSI, and if so, how do you control or reduce it?

Sources:
Science Daily: Sign Language Interpreters At High Ergonomic Risk
RIT Study: Sign Language Interpreters at High Ergonomic Risk

Comments (5)

My first thought i find this hard to believe.. not heard of anyone suffering from RSI through sign language.
As I see RSI doing repetitive things ie unnatural movements.
Where i see sign language more of an exercise such as tia chi (just thinking now sound like an over strenuous exercise )
So as writing this i am beginning to believe this


Going to blog about this as you have given me more food for thoughts :-)

I get RSI from typing in a bad sitting position, so the solution is to sit properly! Never get it from translating, but it is possible to if you have to sit/stand in an uncomfortable position for X amount of time... which I don't do. Have heard of terps carrying special foldable cushions around with them for that reason.

I have RSI and am a qualified BSL/English Interpreter. I have developed RSI from too much Driving/Interpreting and Computer use without giving myself enough rest periods in-between each activity to allow the muscles/tissues in my arms to recover. I am having to have time off sick and have physio. It is a very frustrating time financially, personally and professionally and I am hoping that more people will start talking about RSI as it is a very under-discussed issue within the interpreting community.

One of my sign teachers, a BSL native had shoulder problems which if not caused by signing, are exacerbated by it.

I believe interpreters are more prone to RSI than signing deafies because of the type of signing they have to do when terping - bigger, more forceful, clearer and for more sustained concentrated periods of time. Conversational sign between deafies is usually more relaxed and less stiff/formal...

I suspect also that a lot of terps don't get proper breaks when working. I've attended events where there have been interpreters who don't get a break even though they're supposed to - or there should be two of them. I don't have much experience of terps, but they've always been hard working, and desperate to equalise things for the deafie (and me who's taken advantage of them too) they're working for - putting the deaf person first and perhaps their own needs a bit too much behind in the longer term scheme of things.

I have read the few comments posted here and know well the pain that comes with interpreting. I have been giving ergonomic workshops specifically designed for the issues you have raised, having begun this specific work several years ago, and have also been a professional interpreter since 1979. There are also many additional aspects to "sign safely and interpret intelligently." Generalist ergonomic experts do not address these. They are unaware of what is involved in interpreting. As one example, one can't always adjust an arm or hand position without changing a sign.
Although I am viewing only a few posts, they represent hundreds of interpreters who are serving while in pain; pain that can be managed and maybe even avoided. You are free to check out my website and perhaps urge local agencies to make some changes.
There is a lot that can be done.
The end result of continuing to function with this pain can be career ending and involve surgeries that can permanently change one's life. The issues raised here are not something minor.

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