Date: 31 May 2006

Reducing musculoskeletal burden through ergonomic program implementation in a large newspaper

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Objectives: To assess the impact of a workplace ergonomic program to reduce musculoskeletal burden among newspaper employees and to understand relationships among participation, risk factor changes and health status within an employee cohort. Methods: We conducted repeat cross-sectional surveys, with 1,003 employees from all major departments in 1996 and 813 in 2001, generating a cohort of 433 participants in both surveys. Elements of the ergonomic program included employee RSI (repetitive strain injury) training, pro-active assessment of workstations and workstation modifications, and encouragement of early treatment through on-site physiotherapy. Potential risk factors included biomechanical and work organizational aspects of office work. Health status measures included pain intensity and the Work-Disability of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand (DASH). Repeat cross-sectional analyses incorporated modifications for shared variance. For the cohort, a theory of change informed path analyses using MPLUS. Results: Among respondents in 2001, 69% reported participation in RSI training and 56% had workstation assessments. Among those with pain, 57% had consulted a health practitioner, including the on-site physiotherapist. In repeat cross-sectional analyses, the proportion reporting moderate pain or worse, at least once per month or for longer than 1 week, declined from 20 to 16% (p=0.01). Among the cohort, pain intensity and work disability in 1996 were the strongest predictors of 2001 health status (both p<0.001). Stable or increased supervisor awareness and concern about RSI was associated with decreased pain in 2001(p<0.01). Participation in RSI training was associated with increases in decision latitude (p<0.05), which themselves were associated with decreased work disability in 2001 (p<0.05). Increased time mousing was associated with increases in work disability (p<0.05). Conclusions: Implementation of a worksite ergonomics program was associated with a reduction in frequent and severe pain in the workforce. Changes in work disability were affected by multiple factors.