Musculoskeletal disorders - evaluating risks

Work Study

ISSN: 0043-8022

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




(2000), "Musculoskeletal disorders - evaluating risks", Work Study, Vol. 49 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Musculoskeletal disorders - evaluating risks

Musculoskeletal disorders - evaluating risks

Keywords: Risk, Health and safety, Ergonomics

A recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) funded study describes the development of a practical method for assessing the risk of workers developing musculoskeletal disorders. It will be especially useful for evaluating the impact of changes in work systems.

The study was carried out by Professor Peter Buckle and Dr Guangyan Li, from the Robens Centre for Health Ergonomics at the University of Surrey. The aim of the research was to develop a user-friendly, practical method for assessing exposure to physical risks for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (such as back problems or other aches and pains in the muscles and joints). The researchers wanted to develop a tool that could be used by health and safety practitioners, such as safety officers, who may not have extensive knowledge of musculoskeletal disorders or in-depth training on ergonomics.

The researchers started by looking at existing methods to assess risks, to establish their strengths and weaknesses. They then designed a prototype and tested it in the laboratory and at work, covering a variety of situations including VDU work, manual handling, assembly tasks, warehouse and supermarket work and repairing riverbanks on an estuary. In all, 150 practitioners were involved in the trials and provided feedback which helped to make the prototype easier to use. The method was designed so that new users could be quickly trained to use it to make assessments.

The assessment tool consists of a checklist for the assessor and worker, a score sheet and guidance notes on its use. It covers areas such as workers' posture, movements of the back, shoulders and arms, the weight of loads being lifted and time spent working on tasks.

The studies showed that the prototype method has good sensitivity and usability, and reasonably good intra-observer reliability (reliability when used by the same assessor to make repeated measurements of similar tasks at different times). However, inter-observer reliability (reliability when the tool is used by different people to measure the same task) was rated lower at "acceptable" or "moderate".

The results suggest that the tool can help practitioners to quickly assess advantages and disadvantages to health and safety when changes are made in the design of workplaces or work equipment. However, the researchers found that the tool may benefit from further development, to improve reliability when measuring effects on certain parts of the body; to investigate better methods of training new users; to validate the scoring system; and to carry out further tests using the tool on a wide range of work situations and work tasks.

Copies of the report are available from HSE books, Tel: +44 (0) 01787 881165.

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