New tools for better risk assessments

An ongoing research project is developing tools to improve risk assessment related to hand-intensive work consisting of a number of parts that include a checklist and methods for measuring physical strain on the body.

Hand-intensive work is characterized by repeated, rapid hand movements that are performed with force over a long period of time. However, it can be difficult to determine when hand-intensive work actually risks leading to injuries. The Swedish Work Environment Authority does not give any exact limits in its regulations and individual variations make it difficult to say when a risk arises. For these reasons, researchers at Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University Hospital in Uppsala have started a research project to simplify this type of risk assessment. Through checklists, measurements of muscle strength and self-assessment scales, they hope to make it easier for employers and managers to detect high-risk work. 

“We can see that there is a need for these tools,” says ergonomist and researcher Peter Palm, who is leading the project. “Since the new regulation on hand-intensive work came into force, many companies and organizations have asked how risk assessments can be carried out.” 

The research project has three different parts. The first is developing a checklist that can be used to find out where hand-intensive work takes place and which aspects of such work need to be investigated and changed. The second part of the project is to develop an assessment tool to determine whether a task is harmful or not. This can be done by measuring muscle force in the forearms, the part of the body that is mainly under strain when working with your hands. 

“We are trying to find methods to estimate physical exertion in an objective way. This type of measurement has been done before, but we are calculating and analysing the effort in a new way, which we hope will be a more useful method for estimating risks,” says Peter Palm. 

The third part of the research project is translating and adapting an American assessment scale to Swedish conditions. The scale is based on self-assessment of the strain experienced by employees and how it affects them. According to Peter Palm, self-assessment is one of the most important measures in the overall process of risk assessment. 

“Ask the question: Is it painful when you work? If the answer is yes, then you have something to work on. It doesn’t matter if you measure the forces and vibrations and state that the values ​​are not very high – if an employee feels that they have a problem, as their employer you need to address it. You have to take your personnel’s accounts seriously.” 

Physical measurements and checklists are also very important in risk assessment work, since these methods can help identify harmful elements of work before problems arise. 

Due to the pandemic, the researchers have not yet been able to carry out any measurements, but the deadline for the three-year project is still 1 January 2024.

Medical check-ups must be carried out after hand-intensive work, according to the Swedish Work Environment Authority. 

Medical check-ups must be offered to employees who perform hand-intensive work that may involve a risk of injury to the neck, shoulders, shoulder blades, arms or hands, despite measures taken to minimise such risks. However, the employer is not obliged to offer check-ups if a detailed assessment shows that the work does not cause any increased risk of strain problems. If hand-intensive work is performed for more than four hours in a working day, a risk assessment must be carried out. Shorter periods of hand-intensive work may also be harmful and need to be assessed for risk and changed if necessary. Read more about hand-intensive work at av.se/halsa-och-sakerhet/arbetsstallning-och-belastning—ergonomi/handintensivt-arbete/

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