National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance: Exposure to biomechanical demands, pain and fatigue symptoms and the provision of controls in Australia workplaces


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Biomechanical demands such as repetitive hand or arm movements, lifting heavy loads or working in awkward postures contribute to the development or worsening of inflammatory or degenerative musculoskeletal disorders. However, little is known about patterns of exposure to different biomechanical demands and how they relate to the demographic and employment characteristics of Australian workers.

To address this, in 2008 the National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance [NHEWS] survey collected information on 4500 Australian workers’ exposure to nine biomechanical demands, pain and fatigue symptoms and the provision of various risk controls. Almost all workers reported some level of exposure to the biomechanical demands surveyed and 22 per cent were deemed to have high overall (composite) biomechanical demand exposure. In particular, young workers, male workers, night workers and lower skilled workers were most likely to report exposure and had the highest overall biomechanical demand exposure.

The reporting of pain and fatigue symptoms was highly related to the level of biomechanical demand exposure. Workplace size (number of workers at a site) and the overall level of biomechanical demand exposure were the best predictors of control provision: workers from large workplaces and those with high exposure were most likely to be provided with biomechanical demand controls. This report presents detailed findings of the NHEWS survey and discusses the implications of these findings for work health and safety policy.

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Research and studies
Manual handling
Lifting, pushing and pulling
Hazard surveillance research
Disease and illness