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Innovative technical interventions to prevent MSDs highlighted by four Good Practice Award winners
Although musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are preventable, they remain the most common work-related health problem in Europe. In this second article featuring Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Award winners, we share the new, innovative solutions introduced by the final four winning organisations to help prevent MSDs.
Hungary: New equipment and tools to support confectionary production workers
F&F is a family-run sweets factory that brought in an ergonomics consultancy to lead a systemic risk assessment of posture, workstation design, load, exertion, mental load, work schedule, environment and occupational safety. Workers wore motion capture suits to record their movements. Risks identified included harmful bending of the spine and neck at the production line and the high load on the wrists and arms while using the cutting scissors.
Key interventions were new machine solutions for cutting, and pneumatic pressing solutions. An anti-fatigue mat and optimal footwear were also introduced to improve conditions for standing work. Air conditioning improved overall working conditions. Encouraging worker participation proved invaluable, as they were able to provide actionable feedback and complemented the computerised data capture and analysis also used to develop changes to equipment and tools.
Latvia: Practical solutions for metalworkers handling heavy loads
A metalworking company, SIA Silkeborg Spaantagning Baltic, was facing challenges around lifting and handling heavy materials that required tailored solutions. 23 small interventions were introduced in total to improve ergonomics and reduce manual handling. These multiple practical solutions, including custom-built tool and motor holders, were based on the ideas, designs and handiwork of the employees themselves.
Recognising the need to make these changes sustainable, ergonomics and MSD prevention is now part of the workplace culture, with time dedicated to these tasks and workers continuing to play a key role. As a result of the project, more comfortable working positions and safer lifting practices were achieved.
Italy: Wi-Fi technology identifies key MSD risks for laundry workers
Repetitive movements, awkward postures, use of force and manual handling of loads were some of the issues faced by laundry and sterilisation service provider, Servizi Italia. Wearable Wi-Fi technology was used to conduct a risk assessment and identify the most problematic elements of tasks, as well as solutions, in collaboration with an occupational physician.
Three example interventions are the introduction of a bench for loading bags for washing to ease the amount of lifting required, raising the conveyer belt height for manual sorting to minimise back and shoulder bend, and adapting the trouser press to reduce the need to work with raised arms. A combination of technical and organisational adaptations contributed to the success of the project, as on-the-job training and more ergonomic workstations have also become the new norm.
Cyprus: Wearable exoskeletons lighten the load for airport ground handling services
Swissport Cyprus Ltd provide ground handling services for multiple airlines. Staff involved in the manual loading and unloading of luggage, cargo and mail faced a high risk of developing MSDs. The company began a wellbeing initiative: the ‘Work-Ergonomics-Health’ campaign. A central component was the ‘LiftSuit’, a wearable exoskeleton to reduce the pressure that may be placed on the musculoskeletal system during manual handling.
From the outset, workers were involved in the testing and evaluation of the project. This led to improved employee satisfaction, as well as measurable physical benefits. For example, laboratory results indicated that the intensity of muscular activities for an employee is reduced by up to 30% when wearing the LiftSuit. In the long run, this is expected to reduce rates of absenteeism due to MSDs, as well as make a positive contribution to employees’ wellbeing outside work.
The innovative approaches and products piloted by these four organisations can provide examples of good practice for others facing similar risks. While some, such as wearable technologies, are more technically advanced, others, like adapting working positions and suitable footwear, can be simple and low cost.
Our previous news article introduced the other four Healthy Workplace Good Practice Award winners that demonstrated excellent training and awareness-raising initiatives.
Other practical examples of prevention measures can be found in our case studies.