“All groups on board do some hand-intensive work”

Cooks, cold kitchen chefs and hotel staff These are the occupational groups on board ferries in which hand-intensive tasks are most common. Magnus Sköldbäck from the occupational health service Runstenen discussed this issue during his talk at the SAN conference.
The ergonomist Magnus Sköldbäck has led a survey of hand-intensive work on four of Stena Line’s ships.

A new regulation was introduced in 2019 stating that people who carry out hand-intensive work must be offered medical check-ups. Stena Line has commissioned a risk assessment of all staff categories on board its ferries to investigate which jobs have hand-intensive work. It was carried out in collaboration with the occupational health organization Runstenen, under the leadership of Magnus Sköldbäck, ergonomist.

“The groups we assessed as doing hand-intensive work were cooks, cold kitchen chefs and cabin cleaners,” he said during an interview after the conference. “They were quite high on the rating scale we used.”

Those who have hand-intensive work may get different types of problems; not only in the hands and wrists, but also in the arms, shoulders and back.

Hand-intensive work is defined as tasks performed with “… sustained fast wrist movements using force”. The movements must also be carried out “… often or during a significant part of the working day”, according to the Swedish Environment Agency.

“All occupational groups on board carry out some hand-intensive work, but if it is only for a limited time, it is not considered harmful. Washing dishes, for example, may be hand-intensive, but if you only do it for an hour a day and carry out other tasks, it’s not a problem,” says Magnus Sköldbäck.

The study included four ships operating on different routes.  The outliers in the survey were those with shorter crossings and brief stops in port.

“One example is the ferry between Varberg and Grenå. The opportunities for recovery are smaller on that line, which makes some tasks more hand-intensive. On the Germany ferries there is a longer time in port, meaning it is not nearly as stressful,” says Magnus Sköldbäck. 

“Those who have hand-intensive work may get different types of problems; not only in the hands and wrists, but also in the arms, shoulders and back. Regardless of where the problems arise, key to a quick recovery is reacting in time,” says Magnus Sköldbäck. 

“My experience is that if you suffer from tennis elbow, for example, you go for quite a long time without doing anything about it, until the day you can’t stand it anymore. By then, it has often progressed quite far and it can take up to six months before it heals. The message is to act as soon as you start to feel problems and talk to your boss at an early stage.”

This is the process for risk assessment of hand-intensive work:

• Meet with responsible managers.
• Observations of selected tasks.
• Interviews with employees and estimation of strain level.
• Checklists
• Summary
• Some consideration has been given to reports and results from Occupational and Environmental Medicine in Uppsala.

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