A recent study involving nearly 360 International Monetary Fund (IMF) office workers associated a proactive office ergonomics program that included individual employee ergonomic evaluations with a marked reduction in most regional musculoskeletal pain frequency.
Improved worker productivity (2.3 percent) was also significantly related to the program according to findings of the 18 month, prospective research.
When individual office ergonomic reviews were not conducted with an employee, musculoskeletal pain, sick leave, and productivity showed no statistically significant gains among those who participated in other aspects of the proactive program compared to the control group.
Further, with or without the individual office ergonomic review, the proactive program did not statistically lessen the number of employee sick leave days taken.
The Bottom Line – How This Applies To Ergonomists
There is no substitute for an expert opinion and the human interaction that occurs in an individual office ergonomics workstation evaluation. This study shows it is an essential ingredient to achieve reduced musculoskeletal symptoms/eye strain and improved productivity among office workers.
Other Key Points
Musculoskeletal pain was associated with a series of postures including:
- Trunk not perpendicular/back not supported
- Shoulders and arms not in line with the torso
- Arms and elbows not close to the body
At study baseline, nearly 50 percent of all World Bank and IMF employees described musculoskeletal pain symptoms while approximately 40 percent complained of eye strain.
When confounders were not controlled, a significant decrease in musculoskeletal pain frequency and eye strain was seen among the employees who participated in the proactive program (both those who had individual workstation assessments and those who did not).
This study established three study groups:
- Control Group – 808 World Bank staff members
- Intervention Group One – 249 IMF staff members who moved to the new building and received all features of the proactive program
- Intervention Group Two – 110 IMF staff members who moved to the new building and received all features of the proactive program except an individual workstation evaluation
All groups completed a baseline self report survey that collected information on workstation features, working postures, musculoskeletal pain symptoms, eye strain, and the impact symptoms had on productivity (expressed as an average estimated percentage of decreased productivity). Additionally, data was obtained involving job grade, job control, job satisfaction, comfort with current workstation, use of glasses/contacts, years of employment, daily time on the computer, and break frequency.
The control group received ergonomic advisement through an already established program of monthly trainings, online information, and newsletter tips.
The first intervention group received new ergonomic furniture, printed flyers explaining how equipment adjusted, videos that discussed workstation adjustments and good technique when interacting with the computer, website assistance, efficient response to employees with medical concerns or confusion relative to workstation set-up, employee surveys which elicited comments/program suggestions, and individual employee workstation assessments conducted by certified ergonomists/professional assistants.
The second intervention group received all of the components of the first intervention group except individual workstation assessments.
After 18 months, subjects completed the baseline survey again.
This position paper can be acquired at: http://journals.lww.com/joem/Abstract/2009/10000/The_Proactive_Approach_Is_It_Worthwhile__A.2.aspx
Article Title: The Proactive Approach – Is It Worthwhile? A Prospective Controlled Ergonomic Intervention Study in Office Workers
Publication: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 51:1116-1162, 2009
Authors: J G Laestadius, J Ye, X Cai, S Ross, L Dimberg, and M Klekner
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2009-10-21.