Pioneering study shows that age, gender, neuroticism have little or no part to play in the development of musculoskeletal disorders

A pioneering new study into stress and musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), written by Dr Jason Devereux, an expert in Work System Design at the University of Surrey, has revealed some startling findings that show the harsh reality of problems facing the UK workforce.

The study took over three years to complete and involved 8000 workers in 20 companies across 11 industrial sectors nationwide.

Contrary to the popular belief held by some managers, the study showed that factors such as age, gender, neuroticism or a negative mood had little or no part to play in the development of MSD. However, the study did show that both physical and psychological aspects of work were directly involved in the development of these disorders.

The main new revelation in the study is that work-related stress plays a role in the onset of these disorders.

Dr Devereux believes that both work-related stress and MSD are signs of an imbalance between people and processes in work organisations. Cultural change is needed in organisations to avoid stressors in the workplace brought about by this imbalance. This requires communication, organisational trust and employee participation in strategic management decisions and operations.

He says ‘Simply applying regulations on health and safety and adopting the new standard on managing stress, recently launched by the Health and Safety Executive, are likely to have limited effectiveness. Organisations must focus on people and have systems in place to react to the effects and causes of excessive physical and mental stressors. Work organisations need to focus on going beyond compliance.’

‘Incorporating these changes in the workplace will help to avoid work-related stress and MSD - the leading occupational health problems in the UK today.’

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