Only a fraction of the people who suffer from RSI (repetitive strain injury) ever receive compensation, according to a study published on Tuesday by the TUC.

More than 150,000 people each year are suffering from RSI. The TUC (Trades Union Congress) estimates that for every person who wins compensation there are another 50 suffering in silence.

"RSI is a very painful and debilitating workplace disease, which can end careers and ruin lives," said Owen Tudor, TUC senior health and safety policy officer. "The number of workers receiving compensation for RSI is just the tip of the iceberg, compared with the number actually suffering."

RSI is commonplace in many offices but possesses most risk to those using a keyboard and a mouse day in, day out, such as secretaries and journalists.

According to the TUC, every year British businesses suffer £1bn losses in production owing to skilled workers crippled by RSI.

But proving an RSI claim can be extremely difficult, especially for contract workers and part-time employees who spend only parts of the day at work or move from company to company.

"It's very difficult," said a spokesman at the Health and Safety Executive. "You are talking about a mixture of work and lifestyle and it's very hard to ascribe a cause. What makes things even more complicated is that genetically some people are much more likely to suffer than others, so it's not universal."

The purpose of the report is to encourage business to work with the TUC and safety reps on prevention programmes, with compensation as a last resort. "We want to stop suffering with the better prevention and rehabilitation," said Tudor.

According to the HSE, companies are obligated under the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Display Screen Equipment regulations to provide a safe and comfortable work environment and on the whole businesses comply with this rules.

"Employers need to be mindful of their obligations," said the HSE's spokesman.