Fact or Fraud?

Main Article Content

Ian Campbell

Keywords

telecommunications, Telecom Australia, directory assistance, RSI.

Abstract

Epidemic - a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time - outbreak, scourge, plague.

About 1976 concerns emerged in Australia about the potential for new technologies to seriously reduce employment. The debate reached a peak in 1978 when industrial action taken by the Australian Telecommunications Employees Association (ATEA) threatened to shut down the Australian telecommunications network.

From 1975 growth in calls to the directory assistance service rocketed as did the related operating costs. To maintain the quality of customer service and contain operating costs, Telecom began to deploy a nation-wide computer- based directory assistance system (DAS/C) from 1982. In 1983 an unexpected medical syndrome arose in one of Telecom's directory assistance centres.

Over the next three years, the syndrome rapidly spread through other directory assistance centres, other areas of Telecom and some areas of the public service. The media, academia, legal practitioners and others attracted to the "problem" generally accepted the union view that the DAS/C system was the cause and the syndrome was labelled Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Medical costs and compensation claims mounted reaching $130 million in 1989.

While RSI has become a well-known syndrome over the last 40 years, no outbreaks of the extent and severity experienced in Telecom appear to have been recorded over that period anywhere in the world. There still appears to be little scientific evidence of the link between the injury of the reported scale and the workplace.

This is the story of the rise of the RSI phenomena in Telecom over the period 1983-86.

Downloads

Download data is not yet available.
Abstract 382 | PDF Downloads 15 HTML Downloads 0

References

Australian Telecommunications Commission. 1981-86. "Directory Services Review of Activities" for the years 1981/82, 1982/83, 1983/84, 1984/85 & 1985/86.

Australian Telecommunications Commission. 1975-86. "Annual reports for the years 1975/76, 1976/77, 1977/78, 1978/79, 1979/80 & 1980/81".

Booz, Allen, Hamilton. 1988. "A Benchmarking Study comparing the Directory Assistance Operations of Telecom and four Regional Bell Operating Companies."

Ewan, Christine; Lowy, Eva; and Reid, Janice. 1991. "Falling out of Culture': the effects of repetition strain injury on sufferers' roles and identity".
onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9566.ep11340787/pdf.

Helliwell, P S; Taylor, W J. 2004. "Repetitive Strain Injury". Postgraduate Medical Journal, British Medical Journal. pmj.bmj.com › Archive › Volume 80, Issue 946

Hocking, Dr B. 1989. “Epidemiological Aspects of Repetitive Strain Injury in Telecom Australia”. Medical Journal of Australia.

Patkin, Michael. 1989. "Problems of Computer Workers - Lessons from the Australian Debate". www.mpatkin.org/ergonomics/rsi/montreal88.htm

Patkin, Michael. 1991. “Limits to Ergonomics”. A paper to the 1991 Annual Conference of the Ergonomics Society of Australia. https://mpatkin.org/ergonomics/limits_erg_91.htm

Quintner, J. L. 1994. "the Australian RSI Debate: stereotyping and medicine". http://pudendalnerve.com.au/website/wpcontent/uploads/2013/09/The%20Australian%20RSI%20debate-%20stereotyping%20and%20medicine.pdf

Rickertt, Jeffery. 2000. "Resistance on the Line - a history of Australian Telephonists and their Trade Unions, 1880-1988”. PhD Thesis. School of History, Philosophy & Religion & Classics, University of Queensland. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/34294972.

RSI and Overuse Injury Association of the ACT, Inc. 2017. rsi.org.au.

Thornthwaite, Louise. January, 1994. “Union Growth, Recruitment Strategy and Women Workers”. Griffith University Series: Institute for Research on Labour and Employment. University of California , Berkley, USA.