Decision Latitude, Support Affect MSDs, Study Reaffirms

Giving workers some latitude to make decisions, keep their workload at optimal levels, and offering support from supervisors and co-workers will make the workers less likely to suffer from musculoskeletal symptoms, according to the authors of a study of 1,690 female human service workers that is published in this month's International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics.

Pernilla Larsman and Jan Johansson Hanse of the Department of Psychology at the University of Gothenburg in Göteborg, Sweden, examined how decision latitude, psychological workload, and social support were related to musculoskeletal neck, shoulder, and low back symptoms with a longitudinal two-wave cohort study and a questionnaire. Their analysis involved 741 workers for neck symptoms, 670 for shoulder symptoms, and 640 for low back symptoms, all of whom were considered free from the respective symptoms at baseline measurements. High strain work (high psychological load coupled with low decision latitude) combined with low social support was related to increased risks of developing symptoms in all three body regions, they report.

Another study in the same issue, by John K. Layer (Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Evansville, Indiana), Waldemar Karwowski (Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems, University of Central Florida), and Allen Furr (Department of Sociology, University of Louisville), tested whether human performance in manufacturing environments depends on the cognitive demands of the operator and perceived quality of work/life attributes, and that this relationship is related to the operator's specific task and time exposure. The study population was 74 multi-skilled, cross-trained workers who fabricated and assembled mechanical and electrical equipment for two manufacturing companies. The authors concluded human performance is a causal result of the combined, and uncorrelated, effect of cognitive demands and quality of work attributes workers experience. The relationship does depend on the context, but not necessarily on the time spent on task.

Separately, the International Ergonomics Association is accepting applications until May 31 for the 2009 IEA/Liberty Mutual Award in Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, which includes a $10,000 prize. The award recognizes outstanding original research leading to reduction or mitigation of work-related injuries and/or advancement of the theory, understanding, and development of occupational safety research. Professor Pierre Falzon of the CNAM Ergonomics Laboratory in Paris, France, is accepting applications via email only to pierre.falzon@cnam.fr.

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