French researchers write that a comprehensive ergonomics program which focuses on both physical and psychosocial risk factors can significantly improve working conditions as well as save money for companies.
Researchers from the Laboratory of Biomechanics and Ergonomics, and the National Institute for Research and Safety in France compiled the most recent data regarding stress and the occurrence of work related musculoskeletal disorders of the upper extremities (WRMSDue). The researchers point out that the role of stress and work related psychosocial factors in the development of WRMSDue is still poorly understood and there is no consensus on the epidemiological data. They do, however, propose that there is strong evidence that human responses to stress can present risk factors that may cause injury.
The researches focus on the physical reactions to stress and how they may increase the risk for injury. For instance, the researchers note that when a person experiences stress the body releases certain chemicals. Some of these chemicals are pro-inflammatory and can lead to tendon inflammation. Others called corticosteroids can lead to oedema, or swelling in the joints. Swelling and increased pressure in the joints is a risk factor for developing disorders such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The researchers suppose that these factors mixed with poor ergonomics in the physical workplace lead to costly worker injury and illness. They support a comprehensive ergonomics program that looks at minimizing both physical risk factors such as high force or awkward postures and workplace stress.
The authors cite several studies including one reported by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in which an industrial group addressed psychosocial factors in the workplace. The action reportedly brought not just financial, turn-over, absenteeism, productivity and other benefits, but also very significantly reduced the incidence of WRMSDue (255 cases a year in 1988 to 10 in 1994).
Stress is defined by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work as “a psychological state which is part of and reflects a wider process of interaction between the person and their work environment