Research

REMOTE-WORK PAIN

Australian researchers have found employers need to look beyond workstation set-ups to prevent multi-site musculoskeletal pain (MSP) for remote workers.

A study, involving 488 participants, and led by Associate Professor Jodi Oakman, from La Trobe University, identified four distinct trajectories that lead to the development of MSP amongst employees working from home, with data collected over three time points between October 2020 and November 2021.

Musculoskeletal discomfort was recorded separately for five body regions and was scored using a Likert scale.

The four identified distinct trajectories of multisite MSP included:

  1. a high-stable group (36.5% of respondents), characterised by a high number of pain sites that remained constant throughout the study
  2. a mid-decrease group (29.7%), characterised by a number of pain sites which dipped during the first follow-up survey and then slowly rose
  3. a low-stable group (22.3%), characterised by a low number of pain sites with minimal change throughout the study
  4. a rapid-increase group (11.5%), characterised by a low number of pain sites that subsequently increased

Researchers looked at a variety of potential contributing variables including work-family conflict, demographics (age, gender etc), workstation location, workstation comfort, psycho-social factors (quantitative demands), and job satisfaction.

They found that decreased workstation comfort, quantitative demands such as large workloads and time pressures, and having a low level of influence at work were associated with being in the high-stable (constant pain) group compared to low-stable.

Workstation location, specifically having to work "wherever is free", such as at the kitchen table, and quantitative demands were associated with being in the rapid-increase group.

As the study found quantitative factors to be important predictors for both the high-stable and rapid-increase groups (nearly 50% of workers), it highlights the importance of:

  1. setting realistic workload expectations
  2. a collaborative approach between employers and employees when setting workloads and deadlines

Source: OHS Alert, 16 June 2022, Musculoskeletal pain trajectories of employees working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jodi Oakman, et al, Australia, International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, published online June 2022, doi: 10.1007/s00420-022-01885-1.

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