Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1999;25(1):57-66    pdf


Interindividual variation of physical load in a work task

by Balogh I, Hansson G-Å, Ohlsson K, Strömberg U, Skerfving S

Objectives This study analyzed the variation in physical work load among subjects performing an identical work task.

Methods Electromyographs from the trapezius and infraspinatus muscles and wrist movements were recorded bilaterally from 49 women during a highly repetitive industrial work task. An interview and a physical examination were used to define 12 potential explanatory factors, namely, age, anthropometric measures, muscle strength, work stress, and musculoskeletal disorders.

Results For the electromyographs, the means of the 10th percentiles were 2.2% and 2.8% of the maximal voluntary electrical activity (%MVE) for the trapezius and infraspinatus muscles, respectively. However, the interindividual variations were very large [coefficients of variation (CV) 0.75 and 0.62, respectively]. Most of the variance could not be explained; only height, strength, and coactivation of the 2 muscles contributed significantly (R2adj 0.20-0.52). The variation was still large, though smaller (CV £0.63), for values normalized to relative voluntary electrical activity (RVE). For the wrist movements, the median velocity was 29 degrees per second, and the interindividual variations were small (CV £0.24). Six factors contributed to the explained variance (R2adj 0.12-0.55).

Conclusion The interindividual variation is small for wrist movements when the same work tasks are performed. In contrast, the electromyographic variation is large, even though less after RVE normalization, which reduces the influence of strength, than when MVE is used. Because of these variations, several electromyographs are needed to characterize the exposure of a specific work task in terms of muscular load, and individual electromyographs are preferable when the worker's risk of myalgia is being studied.

The following articles refer to this text: 2001;27(1):30-40; 2001;27(1):41-48