Variation is the key word in modern ergonomics, according to Kjell Signell, physiotherapist at the occupational health services Cityläkarna (“City Doctors”) in Mariehamn.
Strain injuries are one of the most common work-related problems, both in Sweden and in the rest of Europe. The ergonomic environment on ships is particularly challenging due to long working hours and a high pace of work, especially on ferries.
“You have to be alert, involved and provide service for many hours, and after that mental fatigue can come very suddenly,” says Kjell. “It can then change into physical problems such as pains in muscles and joints.”
The shipping company Eckerö and their two Swedish-flagged vessels, M/S Birka Stockholm and M/S Eckerö, are among the customers of the occupational healthcare services Cityläkarna (“City Doctors”). A couple of years ago Kjell worked with a colleague onboard the ship. The task was to make an ergonomic audit on behalf of the shipping company and come up with some proposals for improvements. One of the issues that was taken up was the
importance of good floors. Floor quality has a major impact on the body.
“Standing and walking a lot has a bad effect on blood circulation and can lead to swollen feet and legs. It can also result in back pain and pain throughout the whole body. A hard floor makes such problems worse, even if staff have good working shoes,” says Kjell and continues to explain.
“A softer floor is more springy, which the body responds to positively. It also absorbs some of the vibrations on board.”
Another ergonomic issue on board is the high level of repetitive tasks, such as chopping and cutting large quantities of vegetables or sitting at the tax-free checkout for hours on end. Repetitive movements wear the body down and can lead to fatigue in muscles quite quickly.
“You should try to vary your work as much as possible. For example, if it is a seafood week on board, the same person should not have to stand and prepare lobsters shift after shift. If you have jobs that are possible to rotate between different workstations, that is a good way of creating variation.”
For those who spend a lot of time in front of a screen, it is important to get up at regular intervals and stretch the body.
“According to the latest recommendations you shouldn’t sit for more than 30 to 45 minutes – after that you must stand up. Just a few minutes’ break at a time do the trick,” says Kjell. He also points out that every employee bears some responsibility for their own health. Much of the work that is carried out on board is heavy and difficult, which demands a good physical condition.
“Make sure you get plenty of sleep. It can sometimes be difficult on board, but that makes it even more important to sleep well when you are off. You also need to do some form of training to strengthen your body.”
Kjell Signell has some tips on how to improve ergonomics on board:
• Replace hard floors with softer surfaces.
• Use good working shoes.
• Ensure that knives and other utensils have an extra wide handle.
• Install benches and counters that can be raised and lowered.
• Review the lighting. Too sharp or too low light levels can cause problems, such as stiff necks.
• Avoid heavy plates and glasses; they add up to too much weight for staff and washers to handle during a shift.
• Vary tasks, preferably through rotation.