A recent study found that ergonomic interventions, particularly engineering controls, can substantially reduce the number of sickleave days for workers with significant low back pain.
Over 1600 subjects from six countries who had been off work for three to four months due to low back pain were interviewed at three to four months (baseline), one year, and two years after first day of sickleave. A comparison of median number of days off work was made between subjects who received ergonomic worksite modifications versus those who did not. Multiple confounders and effect modifiers were controlled.
Participants who received workplace adaptations (engineering controls) that included different chairs, special tools or lifting aids, for example, were absent from work a median period of 206 days compared to 311 days for workers who did not receive workplace adaptations.
A median of 270 sickleave days was reported by workers who had an adaptation that affected working hours (administrative controls) including schedules that required fewer hours or changes in the pattern of hours worked. Those workers who did not receive a working-hours adaptation had a median of 291 sickleave days.
Adaptation of job tasks (administrative controls) such as minor change in tasks or not having to carry objects was not found to be an effective intervention for these cases. Those who received this modification had a median of 299 sickleave days versus 244 sickleave days for those who did not.
Anema JR, Cuelenaere B, van der Beek AJ, Knol DL, de Vet HCW, van Mechelen W.
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-08-01.