From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

High Prevalence, Magnitude of Lost Productivity Found in Workers with Upper Extremity Disorders

Reduced work productivity was reported by 56 percent of the subjects in a Finnish study involving 168 workers from several professions with a diagnosed upper extremity disorder. The average production loss (measured by quantity and quality of work) was 34 percent.  

Productivity loss was associated with pain intensity, pain interference with work, fear-avoidance beliefs (i.e., physical activity makes my symptoms worse) and lifting.  There was no association between productivity loss and age, gender, smoking habits, waist circumference or physical activity.
The Bottom Line – How This Applies To Ergonomists

Current economic conditions have forced companies to reduce work force size. The productivity of each employee is critical.  A quality proactive ergonomic program that reduces the risk of injury can avoid the 34 percent production loss – 2.5 hours of lost working time – measured by this study.  Further, a reactive ergonomic program can lessen the severity/duration of this loss.  

Other Key Study Points

  • Average pain intensity was reported as 4.7 (on a scale of 0 to 10)  
  • Average pain interference with work was reported as 4.8 (on a scale of 0 to 10)
  • 50 percent of the workers felt their upper extremity symptoms were due to job activities

Study Design

This research was a cross-sectional study involving employees who worked at three companies with a total employment force of 25,000.  Workers who sought treatment for upper extremity symptoms that had begun or flared up less than 30 days prior to seeking care became potential subjects. A diagnostic evaluation was performed by an occupational physician.

Volunteer exclusion criteria included: need for immediate sick leave, scheduled or prior surgery due to the upper extremity disorder, active autoimmune disease, malignancy, fibromyalgia, upper extremity deformity, pregnancy, planned retirement during the follow-up.

The key investigation measure was lost work productivity due to the upper extremity condition.  It was determined by two questions:

1) “Assess the impact of your upper extremity symptoms and mark with a scale from 0 (practically nothing) to 10 (regular quantity) how much work you were able to perform when compared to your normal workday”.
2) “Assess the impact of your upper extremity symptoms and mark with a scale from 0 (very poor quality) to 10 (regular quality) the quality of your work when compared to your normal workday.”

The magnitude of lost productivity was determined by the formula [1 – (quality/10) x (quantity/10)] x 100 percent. 

Pain intensity, the interference of pain with work/leisure time/sleep, work physical exposure, job strain, and fear-avoidance beliefs were also measured.

Article Title: Self-reported productivity loss among workers with upper extremity disorders

Publication: Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 35 (4):301-308, 2009

Authors: D P Martimo, R Shiri, H Miranda, R Ketola, H Varonen, and E Viikari-Juntura

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2009-08-12.