Reviews show ergonomics’ role in MSD prevention

How effectively do ergonomic interventions prevent or reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)? What role does ergonomics play in alleviating complaints in office workers, such as shoulder pain or eye discomfort?

These are just some of the questions that have interested researchers at the Institute for Work & Health. As part of the Institute’s systematic review program, researchers have been involved in three reviews with an ergonomic focus.

The newest review focuses on the facilitators and barriers to implementing participatory ergonomic (PE) interventions. PE is an approach in which workers are educated about ergonomics, and they are actively involved in identifying hazards, as well as suggesting and implementing solutions to work-related health and safety problems.

Facilitators or barriers to PE can include factors such as support from management or lack of financial resources to implement change – anything that may help or hinder a workplace ergonomic intervention.

An earlier systematic review on PE focused on the outcomes and effectiveness of participatory ergonomics, explains Dwayne Van Eerd, Research Associate, who has been involved in each of the reviews. This new review will focus on the process of implementation, and how these interventions are actually put into practice.

PE interventions often involve an ergonomics team. Interventions are diverse, and can range from tool or equipment changes, to work organization changes such as altered work shifts or job rotation.

The new review is expected to be completed in late 2006. A stakeholder group involving ergonomists from health and safety associations, private consulting firms, government ministries and Ontario’s Workplace Safety & Insurance Board was assembled earlier this year to discuss the direction of this review.

We are planning on reconvening with this group later this year, says Kiera Keown, Knowledge Transfer Associate. The original meeting allowed the stakeholders to provide input into our research question and search terms. The follow-up meeting will be an opportunity for stakeholders to respond to the findings and discuss the key messages.

The two completed systematic reviews on ergonomic interventions have yielded mixed findings. The first review was on participatory ergonomic interventions.

The second review examined whether office workplace interventions – such as work station adjustments and rest breaks – could help prevent health complaints in computer users (see "Findings from past reviews").

Ergonomics is generally considered to be a useful intervention. The study and process of designing and/or modifying equipment, work spaces, tasks and environments to match the abilities and needs of workers have been shown to have an impact.

Source: At Work, Issue 46, Fall 2006: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto