Worker participation in ergonomic programs has benefits

In brief

  • A participatory ergonomic approach can improve risk factors related to musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Meaningful worker participation in the process is an important aspect for the success of such interventions.
  • Health and safety professionals and employers attempting to reduce these disorders should consider a participatory ergonomic approach as an appropriate intervention.

Published: January 2006

Why was this study done?

Work-related injuries of soft tissues – also known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – place a significant burden on workers and workplaces. One way to curb these injuries involves participatory ergonomic (PE) interventions in workplaces. With PE interventions, employees and managers identify, problem-solve and implement ergonomic changes. The purpose of this study was to understand the changes that occurred with a PE intervention, particularly changes in exposures to MSD risk factors and improvements in workers’ musculoskeletal health.

How was the study done?

A PE process was launched at one depot of a large courier company, with a nearby depot serving as a comparison group. Employees at both depots completed questionnaires before and after the PE intervention. The questionnaires asked about changes in workers’ perceived physical demands at work, in work organizational risk factors, and in their own reports of pain or discomfort and work function. Work organization risk factors included changes in management reporting or to the structure of departments or workgroups.

What did the researchers find?

Changes in work organizational factors had a positive impact on changes in workers' health. When workers had greater participation in the process, it was associated with increased levels of job influence and communication. Improvements in communication were associated with reduced pain intensity.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

The conceptual framework that was developed to analyze the results allowed the researchers to examine many components and their relationships to one another. One weakness is that the study was limited by response rates, and the amount of turnover and transfer between jobs.