Scand J Work Environ Health 1979;5 suppl 2:24-29    pdf | Issue date: 1979

Ergonomics in small workplaces with special reference to occupational health services.

by Waltari L, Järvenpää I, Tolonen M, Hassi J

This ergonomic survey comprised 163 small workplaces with a total of 2,400 employees. In 1976 the establishments reported 15 cases of job-related low-back pain and two cases of upper arm conditions to the insurance companies. Poor work postures related to musculoskeletal strain occurred in all the workplaces surveyed, but the -faults differed considerably from those usually encountered in medium-sized and large companies. In small enterprises the jobs can be alternated and are varied, and thus the effects of temporary strenuous postures and movements are alleviated. Characteristically, the production and environmental layout of the small establishments often seems to be temporary and poorly planned, at least from an ergonomic point of view. The concept of ergonomics and its practical applications are not as familiar in small workplaces as in larger ones. A greater part of the problems detected could have been avoided if ergonomic know-how had been available. Be it as it may, most failures could be easily reduced or even eliminated by the promotion of ergonomic information and training among proprietors and employees. From the health point of view the most notable ergnomic problems were those associated with materials handling, i.e., manual lifting and carrying. Only 20 Ofo of the lifting conditions fulfilled recommendations. Some 400 jobs would have required supplementary items, most commonly an auxiliary work top or a seat for resting. Most ergonomic problems were encountered in industrial places of work. Ergonomic faults and defects rarely imperil health and safety, but they quite often affect welfare and comfort at work. It is suggested that the staff providing occupational health services should, in the context of their visits to a place of work, survey the work conditions also from an ergonomic point of view and alert the establishment to ergonomic problems. They should also help to review plans for new, expanded, or remodelled facilities. Lifting and carrying postures and the opportunity for relaxation need the most medical attention, particularly in monotonous jobs, precision work, and other jobs causing sustained exertion to one part of the body.