Workplace risk management practices to prevent musculoskeletal and mental health disorders: What are the gaps?

Introduction: A large body of evidence demonstrates substantial effects of work-related psychosocial hazards on risks of both musculoskeletal and mental health disorders (MSDs and MHDs), which are two of the most costly occupational health problems in many countries. This study investigated current workplace risk management practices in two industry sectors with high risk of both MSDs and MHDs and evaluated the extent to which risk from psychosocial hazards is being effectively managed.
Method: Nineteen, mostly large, Australian organisations were each asked to provide documentation of their relevant policies and procedures, and semi-structured interviews were conducted with 67 staff who had OHS or management roles within these organisations. Information about current workplace practices was derived from analyses of both the documentation and interview transcripts.
Results: Risk management practices addressing musculoskeletal and mental health risks in these workplaces focused predominately on changing individual behaviours through workplace training, provision of information, individual counselling, and sometimes healthy lifestyle programs. There were formal procedures to control sources of risk for workplace biomechanical hazards affecting musculoskeletal risk, but no corresponding procedures to control risk from work-related psychosocial hazards. Very few risk control actions addressed risk from psychosocial hazards at their workplace sources.
Practical applications: To reduce the risk of both musculoskeletal and mental health disorders, existing practices need considerable expansion to address risk from all potential psychosocial hazards. Risk controls for both biomechanical and psychosocial hazards need to focus more on eliminating or reducing risk at source, in accord with the general risk management hierarchy.

Source: Oakman, J., Macdonald, W., Bartram, T., Keegel, T., & Kinsman, N. (2018). Safety Science, 101, 220-230.

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