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Custodians' Injuries Caused By Skaters

Amy Yen -- The Tech
Some custodians have been afflicted by repetitive strain injuries from scrubbing scuff marks left by rollerbladers in the infinite Corridor.

By Zareena Hussain
Associate News Editor

For most students at the Institute, the term Repetitive Strain Injury' conjures up images of long hours spent in front of a computer trying to complete problem sets or essays.

Recently, however, one group of RSI sufferers has emerged from a seemingly unlikely source: those custodians whose task it is to scrub away the scuff marks left by rollerbladers as they skate through Institute corridors.

This situation first came to light when the MIT safety office was informed by a relative of an affected custodian.

"The spouse of one of the custodians contacted the director's office of physical plant and relayed that her husband's wrists were sore each evening from scrubbing scuff marks off the floors of the main group," said Susan Pritchard, manager for Worker's Compensation and assistant to the director of the Safety Office.

RSI refers to a category of injuries involving damage to muscles, tendons and nerves caused by overuse or misuse. RSI does not result from any single injury but develops slowly as a result of misuse over time, Pritchard said.

Workers receive compensation

In the meantime, while the use of rollerblades to traverse Institute hallways has not subsided, attempts to help afflicted custodians are underway.

"A site evaluation was scheduled to suggest less strenuous cleaning methods," Pritchard said. "Research into stronger cleansers is being conducted by building services management," she said.

Treatment for those RSI-afflicted custodians is provided by MIT's Worker's Compensation program, Pritchard said.

The number of workers who have been affected by the presence of scuff marks caused by rollerblades is unclear.

"Anecdotally, I'd say several," Pritchard said.

The costs both to the Institute and to the individual worker arising from such an injury can be large.

"The average worker's compensation cost of an RSIinjury which requires surgery is $35,000," Pritchard said, "but there is no way to quantify the financial and social impact on an individual employee."

Rollerblading has more hazards

In addition to the hazards custodians face as the result of the use of corridors by rollerbladers there are several other safety hazards associated with rollerblading indoors.

"It's just something that is not safe," said Elizabeth S. Stordy, Training and Communications Assistant in Physical Plant, citing incidents in which rollerbladers have overrun pedestrians and one instance in which a rollerblader almost fell through a large window.

"They (rollerbladers) are very inconsiderate," Stordy said.