Physical workload - Yleistä

 

General information on topic

Excessive physical workload can lead to

  • damage to muscles and other bodily structures that contribute to musculoskeletal disorders
  • sickness absences and consequences of the same, such as having to hire and train cover staff
  • quality deviations and disruptions in production processes, and
  • poor work performance and inefficiency.

Employers can reduce their employees’ physical workload and the associated harmful consequences by

  • assessing the risks posed by physical workload factors
  • planning work, designing workstations and choosing work equipment so as to take into account the limitations of the human body and general sizing rules, and
  • instructing employees to follow safe and healthy procedures and ensuring that they do so in practice.

Employers can ask their occupational health care provider to help them identify physical workload factors, evaluate the risks posed to employees’ health and find ways to reduce employees’ workloads.

Occupational safety and health authorities have a duty to ensure that employers take any necessary steps to reduce the risks posed to employees’ health by excessive physical workloads.

Physical workload - Työntekijälle

 

Instructions for employee

There are many ways in which you can prevent your physical workload from impacting negatively on your health and ensure that you stay fit and can continue working for longer. The Occupational Safety and Health Act also makes you responsible for managing your own workload.

Let your employer know about any issues

If you notice that certain work tasks are putting a strain on your body and, for example, making your back, shoulders or arms sore, tell your line manager and occupational safety and health representative. Also let them know if you have any ideas about how to make a task less strenuous or what kinds of tools could help. You can also raise these kinds of issues in connection with your employer’s risk assessment or their occupational health care provider’s workplace survey.

You have the right to know what action your employer intends to take on the basis of your reports. You can also contact your employer’s occupational health care provider and ask to be assessed for work-related strain.

If your employer does not react to your reports and if occupational health care professionals cannot help you either, you can contact your Regional State Administrative Agency’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Follow your employer’s instructions

You have the right to get advice on how to avoid excessive physical workloads and, for example, work in ergonomic positions. You have an obligation to take part in training and to follow your employer’s instructions as well as to take proper care and precautions in your work tasks otherwise.

Always use the machinery and tools and any assistive devices provided, such as handcarts for moving heavy loads, as instructed. Help to keep the workplace neat and tidy so as to enable the use of assistive devices to move things around. If your physical workload requires you to use personal protective equipment, such as knee pads for working on your knees, use it.

Your employer has a legal obligation to ensure that all employees follow the instructions given at all times and to intervene if, for example, an employee is seen lifting heavy loads in an unsafe manner.

Look after your health

In addition to how you do your work, you can also protect yourself from the harmful effects of physical workloads by leading a healthy lifestyle otherwise and by keeping fit.

Physical workload - Työnantajalle

 

Instructions for employer

Employers have a legal obligation to seek to eliminate or minimise the harmful effects of physical work and to look after their employees’ health.

It is the employer’s duty to

  • identify the physical workload factors present in the workplace
  • assess the associated risks from the perspective of employees’ health and their ability to cope with their workload
  • eliminate any risks to employees’ health that can be eliminated and minimise any remaining risks, and
  • monitor the impact of the remedial action taken on employees’ health and coping.

Practical measures in the workplace

Employees’ physical workload is deemed to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act (2002/738) as long as the employer has ensured that

  • procedures and working conditions are designed to ease physical workload and make work run more smoothly
  • their employees have access to proper work equipment
  • there are assistive devices available in the workplace for making work less strenuous
  • their employees have been trained to perform physical work in a safe manner
  • physical work and its potential harmful effects on employees’ health are monitored, and
  • there is a procedure in place for continuously assessing risks and finding ways to eliminate or minimise the harmful effects of physical workload factors.

The most natural way to study the effects of physical workloads in the workplace is to carry out regular (e.g. annual) risk assessments. A schedule must be drawn up for implementing the chosen measures for eliminating or minimising physical workload factors, and the division of responsibilities must be recorded in the employer’s occupational safety and health policy and kept up to date. The occupational safety and health policy should also set out procedures for following up on the impact of the actions taken and deciding on any potential further action.

The occupational health care provider’s workplace survey report and occupational health care plan provide good starting points for both risk assessment and analysis and the employer’s occupational safety and health policy.

Physical workload - Lainsäädäntö

 

Legislation

Provisions on physical workload and ergonomics:

Occupational Safety and Health Act (738/2002)

  • Section 12 – Design of the working environment
  • Section 13 – Work design
  • Section 24 – Ergonomics of the workstation, work postures and work motions
  • Section 25 – Avoiding and reducing workloads
  • Section 26 – Work with display screen equipment

Government Decision on manual lifting and carrying at work (1409/1993, in Finnish)

Government Decision on work with display screen equipment (1405/1993, in Finnish)

Government Decree on the Safe Use and Inspection of Work Equipment (403/2008)

  • Section 2 – Choosing work equipment, and its placement

Physical workload - Oikeuden päätökset

 

Court decisions and precedents

The Supreme Court of Finland found in a case in 2010 (KKO:2010:70, in Finnish) that the fact that a shoe factory worker had developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists was most likely to be primarily due to workload.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 (KKO:2014:64, in Finnish) that the fact that a pneumatic drill operator had developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists was most likely to be primarily due to workload.

Physical workload - Esimerkkitapaukset

 

Examples and good practices

Ergonomic workstation design in collaboration with employees

A company was assembling a new reception desk in connection with office renovations. The company had a total of eight employees working in reception, three at a time. The length of the employees’ shifts varied between four and eight hours. The employees were asked to contribute to the design of the new reception desk. They felt that it was important to be able to work both sitting down and standing up.

The new reception desk adapts to the preferences of individual employees. One employee can sit on a normal office chair and another on a saddle chair, while the third employee can work standing up. This is possible thanks to purpose-built furniture that can be electronically adjusted to fit different kinds of users. Each employee can also adjust his or her own working position during their shift as they wish. The employees are happier, and there have been fewer neck and shoulder problems and sick days.

Ergonomian tietopankki (in Finnish)
Database of best practices in ergonomics and examples of ergonomic solutions for different sectors of the economy. Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Causes of MSDs (in Finnish)
Risk factors contributing to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include factors relating to work, hobbies, lifestyle or genetics that alone or together with other factors can increase the risk of MSDs. Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.