Incorporating Musculoskeletal Disorder Prevention into Organizations’ Management Systems
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Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) – for example, low back pain or shoulder tendinitis -are prevalent disorders with significant economic burdens to organizations and personal costs to workers. The approaches to prevent these disorders are rarely linked to broader management system frameworks. The main purpose of this thesis was to explore possible practices, tools and avenues to incorporate MSD prevention activities into these broader management frameworks. The results of a scoping review study revealed that there was very little literature describing the integration of MSD risk assessment and prevention into management systems. This lack of information may isolate MSD prevention, leading to difficulties in preventing these disorders at an organizational level. As Participatory Ergonomics (PE) was seen to be an internationally recognized approach to prevent MSD prevention in workplaces, an assessment of its compatibility with the requirements of an Occupational Health and Safety Management System (OHSMS) standard (OHSAS 18001) was performed. It showed that irrespective of the strength of PE, it did not match well with common business processes and practices. However, it is expected that paying adequate attention to adopting management approaches and using the common language used in management system frameworks, could make MSD prevention activities more effective and sustainable. Interviews with key informants - including health and safety managers, consultants, researchers, policy makers, and union representatives - revealed that using common language will result in more management buy-in and is the key to the success of MSD prevention activities. The key informants argued that MSD prevention will receive more attention and recognition through integration of prevention activities into organizational-wide approaches and tools. MSD prevention was suggested to be sold as an “innovation and competitive advantage” and as an added value to the core business of the organization. The participants said that workers’ participation should not been as “negotiation” and it could be achieved by linking prevention goals to current practices in organizations such as “management of change” and “user participation”. In addition to this, training was argued to be a necessary component of prevention programs as well as management systems. The key informants strongly recommended that training for MSD prevention should contain hazard identification and risk assessment components. This study also revealed that “strategic positioning” and the use of common tools and language may result in effective training programs that would consequently improve H&S and MSD prevention in the workplace. The consistent message from key informants was that the incorporation of MSD prevention into a wider organizational approach avoids creating “silos” within organizations. This could ultimately give the same level of recognition to MSD prevention as other business drivers, resulting in more effective and sustainable prevention, improved performance, and a better corporate social responsibility image. This integration was said to be more useful and cost-effective for small businesses. Incorporating MSD hazard identification and assessment into current tools used by organizations such as Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA), was recommended as an effective approach to develop harmonized assessment tools. The case studies showed that despite the existence of proactive OHSMS and ergonomics program in the case-study organizations, these two programs were separated, and this disconnect resulted in isolation of MSD prevention from the organizations’ overall business structure. The case studies showed that initiatives led by middle management in engineering and quality departments resulted in better prevention of MSD; better management buy-in to invest in MSD prevention; increased workers’ participation; improved communication; and increased awareness. Reviewing MSD hazard identification and risk assessment methods and exploring their possible integration into other assessment tools used by organizations to address other types of hazard, concluded that integration was feasible, in a few cases. This integration could create an opportunity to use harmonized hazard identification and assessment tools within management systems. The thesis concluded that the current disconnect of MSD prevention activities from other management processes creates silos within organizations that result in poor sustainability, isolation, and less management buy-in for MSD prevention. Rather than creating stand-alone programs, the use of harmonized tools and an integrative approach should result in increased management support and improved effectiveness and sustainability of MSD prevention activities.
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