Study reports that upper-body musculoskeletal symptoms and disability were significantly reduced for office workers who participated in ergonomic intervention activities compared to those that did not participate.
More than half of the global workforce uses a computer each day. This daily use has drastically increased the prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that affect the upper body, including the neck, shoulders, wrists, and hands. In a study conducted in Denmark, 45% of workers reported neck pain while working on the computer and 10% took a sick leave due to its effects. Each year, one-third of occupational accidents and diseases in the U.S. are caused by MSDs, adding up to over 600,000 lost workdays and up to 20 billion dollars in worker’s compensation costs.
In an effort to improve occupational health, a common practice is to implement workplace participatory ergonomics interventions, which are direct or indirect processes that help people plan and control a significant amount of their work activities to improve their health outcomes. For example, checklists and risk assessment methods are simple and easy-to-use tools that focus on office ergonomics and have been successful at producing positive health outcomes for workers. A recent study in theJournal of Occupational Health investigated the effects of participatory ergonomic interventions on upper-body MSD symptoms of office workers who frequently used a computer.
116 municipal office workers who used computers for at least 10 hours a week participated in the study. Each worker was measured on their current symptom severity, physical function, and job stress, as well as their work environment. They were then randomly assigned into control and intervention experimental groups. The participatory ergonomic intervention group was provided two hours of training aimed at developing basic office ergonomics and risk assessment skills that showed them how to adapt their work environment to avoid MSDs, in addition to exercises and relaxation programs to manage symptoms. After training, workers completed a risk assessment checklist followed by an individual risk assessment of ergonomic issues with researchers. Monthly follow-ups for 10 months were conducted post-intervention to evaluate worker-devised solutions to their problems.
In the 10-month follow-up, the probability of workers in the participatory ergonomic intervention group developing upper-body MSD symptoms on their right side of their neck, shoulder, wrist, and hands was significantly less than control workers. Fewer symptoms and less disability were also reported compared to the control group, suggesting that the intervention was effective overall. The continuity of the ergonomic intervention was supported by the monthly visits, and likely accounted for its efficacy and results, as the efficacy of interventions typically decreases over long periods of time.
This study shows that the implementation of simple ergonomic participatory interventions improves upper-body MSD health outcomes for office workers who frequently use a computer. Simple checklists that focus on occupational health enable workers to evaluate themselves and their environment, to assess risks and produce solutions, are advantageous to their health outcomes, reducing symptoms and the possibility of future disability.
Written By: Fiona Wong, PhD