Matching the demands of work to individual capabilities, both mentally and
physically, is a key factor in dealing with musculoskeletal problems, according
to Dr Jason Devereux.
In his talk, ‘practical solutions to musculoskeletal problems at work’,
Devereux described the results of his three-and-a-half-year research project
into work-related stress and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Devereux and his team investigated 8,000 workers from 20 companies in the
UK, encompassing 11 industrial sectors.
The results, funded by the HSE and the European Agency for Health and
Safety, indicate that the true burden of risk is related to the physical and
psychological reactions of individual workers to their work, so although there
may be a prescribed set of limits to the risk caused by certain activities
within an organisation, those who see work as demanding and stressful are still
three times more likely to develop symptoms.
Devereux said the results show that employers have a duty of care to
individuals, not the group.
And with the HSE taking a ‘no more Mr Nice Guy’ stance regarding an
organisation’s duty to manage stress and MSDs, he questioned why more was not
being done by employers and OH to assess individuals.
Devereux referred to case studies to illustrate the changes brought about by
the use of an ergonomics improvement team (EIT). An EIT usually comprises
expert ergonomists, managers, logistics staff and members of the workforce,
working together to improve the ergonomics within an organisation, and is
endorsed by evidence-based practice.
In the case of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), performing a
formal risk assessment was an important part of the process, which led to a
number of interventions.
As a result, after 12 months, there were 31 work system improvements, a 120
per cent increase of reported ergonomic hazards, and a 40 per cent reduction of
work-related MSD injuries on site attended by a site physician.