With the explosion of home working we need to talk about psychosocial risk factors and how they impact our workplace physical health.
Because musculoskeletal injuries are physical, we tend to look for physical risk factors that cause them. However this is not how the human body works. There are many factors contributing to musculoskeletal discomfort and disorders in the workplace. Some risk factors are purely physical, such as awkward or prolonged postures, some relate to the complex nature of the individual such as their level of physical fitness and their gender, and others are psychosocial factors.
All risk factors need to be considered and addressed in order for organizations to prevent and manage human factors problems successfully.
Psychosocial risk factors are associated with the way individuals interact with the demands of their job and their work environment. This includes their social contacts within their job.
Important psychosocial risk factors with examples are shown in the table below. It is important to be clear that the term ‘psychosocial’ is different from ‘psychological’, which refers more narrowly to thought processes and behavior of individuals.
|Psychosocial risk factor||Description||Examples of risk factor being present in the workplace|
|Work demands and mental load||The mental and physical requirements of the job.||· Working very fast
· Working intensely
· High work load
· High information processing demands
· Constant time pressures
· Pressure to work overtime
|Job control||The amount of input that workers perceive they have over the way they do their work.||· Little or no control over work speed
· Little or no opportunity to schedule own work
· Limited break opportunity
· Poor task variation
· Little or no opportunity to make own decisions
|Co-worker social support||The support that workers perceive they receive from co-workers.||· Little or no help received from colleagues and immediate superiors
· Poor willingness of colleagues and immediate superiors to listen to work problems
|Sense of community||The degree to which workers feel that they are part of a community.||· Poor general atmosphere at work
· Poor co-operation between colleagues
· Poor relationships between colleagues
|Management feedback||The feedback that workers perceive they receive from colleagues and immediate superiors.||· Little or no opportunity to talk about work performance with managers
· Little or no opportunity to talk about work performance with colleagues
|Quality of leadership||The degree to which workers perceive their immediate superiors to be good leaders.||· Poor ability of managers to plan work
· Poor ability of managers to solve problems
|Work stress||The degree to which workers are experiencing signs of work stress.||· High levels of fatigue
· High levels of emotional tiredness
· High levels of frustration
· Poor work-life balance
Psychosocial risk factors are important because, if they are present in the work environment, they can be sources of stress . Stress has been shown to have an important influence on the development and persistence of musculoskeletal discomfort and disorders .
The presence of psychosocial risk factors in the workplace influences the risk of individuals developing musculoskeletal problems. This, in turn, has an impact on injury related costs, absenteeism and productivity.
There are an increasing number of studies showing that psychosocial factors have a strong influence on musculoskeletal discomfort and disorders among computer users.
There are many ways in which psychosocial risk factors can contribute to musculoskeletal discomfort and disorders among computer users, for example:
It is clear that psychosocial risk factors influence the incidence and development of musculoskeletal discomfort and disorders. Recent studies show that psychosocial risk factors also affect self-reported productivity. It has been found that:
It is also considered that productivity losses can be prevented if workers who have symptoms can work in favorable psychosocial conditions, that is, in a work environment where there is an absence of psychosocial risk factors.
As well as providing a picture of individuals’ risk of developing musculoskeletal problems assessing the presence or absence of psychosocial risk factors, as the Wellnomics Psychosocial Assessment Questionnaire does, allows an opportunity for the risk factors to be alleviated with targeted strategies. There are studies that have shown interventions can be successful in suppressing psychosocial risk factors and therefore reducing disorders and discomfort. For example:
Psychosocial risk factors are to do with the way individuals interact with the demands of their job, their work environment and the social contacts within their job.
(Key psychosocial risk factors are assessed in the Wellnomics Psychosocial Assessment Questionnaire.)
Psychosocial risk factors are a relevant and important part of the multi-factorial nature of work related musculoskeletal discomfort and disorders and need to be assessed in order for organizations to prevent and manage these problems successfully. Benefits of doing this effectively include decreased absenteeism and improved productivity, as well as reduced incidence of musculoskeletal disorders.