The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Railroad tries to blame genes for carpal tunnel injuries

Apr 23, 2001

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad, one of the largest railroads in the country, began to require every worker who developed carpal tunnel syndrome to give a blood sample. Why? What relation could blood possibly have to a wrist injury?

Management said it wanted to check their DNA to see if they had...a predisposition to the injury!

You might say that certain genes predispose a worker to some injuries. For example, tall workers are more prone to hit their heads...on low ceilings. And being tall is certainly a result of their genes. But no company should build a ceiling so low that workers could hit their heads on it.

No scientist or medical worker has ever claimed that carpal tunnel is a genetic disease. Carpal tunnel is caused by repeated movements of the hands and wrists under strain. But the railroad was hoping to find a common genetic make up –and they undoubtedly thought that since the workers come mostly from a Mexican background, they would have more genes in common than do other people.

This is simply "bad" science. In fact, we have most of our genes in common of us with each other. And with mice, too, for that matter!

Does that mean that mice have a "predisposition" to carpal tunnel? In fact, if they worked the way we have to, they'd develop carpal tunnel too!