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Participatory Ergonomics Increases Success of New Tools Introduced to Floor Layers

The goal of this Danish study was to change the behavior of floor layers through a participatory ergonomics approach. Traditional installation methods involve extensive kneeling postures because the traditional tools (e.g., scrappers, trowels) have short handles. Long handled tools are now available that support a standing posture.

This research is a follow-up to a 2000 study that revealed that only 13% of the floor layers had used the new working methods during the previous 12 months. In that study, floor layers identified barriers to acceptance including the time it would take to learn new methods, and felt the new tools were not as effective as the traditional tools. The authors state that the new tools used in this study "were much more developed" than those used in the 2000 study, but otherwise give no specific information about the new tool designs.

The primary results are that two years after receiving new method training,

  • 38% of participants in the study group used the new working methods weekly or daily compared with 16% of the control group.
  • The risk was at least double for serious knee complaints among floor layers who had not used the new working methods.
  • There were no increased risks for other musculoskeletal complaints involving any other part of the body associated with the use of the new method.


The Bottom Line — How This Applies to Ergonomists

Ergonomists often develop or recommend changes in work methods or equipment that are designed to improve performance and working conditions. However, for a variety of reasons, workers will sometimes resist change and the new methods or equipment will not be properly utilized, or not utilized at all. By involving workers in problem identification and solutions development, otherwise known as "participatory ergonomics," workers are more likely to positively influence the outcomes and accept or even embrace change. Participatory ergonomics fosters responsibility and accountability, and builds a sense of ownership that is more likely to prove successful and sustainable over longer periods.


Research Methods

The research took place over several years. All training and sets of new tools were provided to participants at no charge. The methods included the following:

  • A union and an employers’ association cooperated to conduct convenient regional meetings throughout the country.
  • 174 participants (91% floor layers and 9% employers) attended the meetings.
  • 38 highly motivated floor layers were selected from this group and given training by a person well known and respected by the floor layers. All participants were provided with their own set of new tools.
  • 10 experienced floor layers were selected from this group and participated in a 2 week training.
  • Those 10 experienced trainers then delivered 43 regional training sessions for 254 of their floor layer peers.
  • During the training attendees completed a questionnaire that included questions about musculoskeletal health problems from the Nordic Health Questionnaire, psychological conditions, and their experience with the new working methods.
  • The same questionnaire was applied again 3 months later, with the addition of questions probing musculoskeletal symptoms.
  • The same questionnaire was applied to the original group 2 years later, with the addition of questions probing knee pain.
  • This questionnaire was also sent to the rest of the floor layers who were members of the Danish trade union, and telephone interviews were conducted for those that did not respond.
  • In addition, semi-structured interviews were conducted on samples that represented employers and floor layers who had not used the new working methods, floor layers who seldom used the new working methods, and floor layers who used the new working methods weekly or daily.


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Article Title: Implementation of New Working Methods in the Floor-Laying Trade: Long-Term Effects on Knee Load and Knee Complaints

Publication: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 53:615–627 (2010)

Authors: Lilli KirkeskovJensen, MD and Claus Friche, MSc

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2010-06-17.