Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Confounding of Work Organization and Physical Factors in Ergonomic Risk Assessment


Issue: Volume 49, Number 1 / 15 January 2006

Pages: 12 - 27

Work routinization and implications for ergonomic exposure assessment

Judith E. Gold A1, Jung-Soon Park A2, Laura Punnett A1

A1 Department of Work Environment, 1 University Ave, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA, 01854, USA
A2 Zen Buddhist Temple, 1710 W. Cornelia Ave, Chicago, IL, 60657, USA


Jobs in many modern settings, including manufacturing, service, agriculture and construction, are variable in their content and timing. This prompts the need for exposure assessment methods that do not assume regular work cycles. A scheme is presented for classifying levels of routinization to inform development of an appropriate exposure assessment strategy for a given occupational setting. Five levels of routinization have been defined based on the tasks of which the job is composed: 1) a single scheduled task with a regular work cycle; 2) multiple cyclical tasks; 3) a mix of cyclical and non-cyclical tasks; 4) one non-cyclical task; 5) multiple non-cyclical tasks. This classification, based primarily on job observation, is illustrated through data from a study of automobile manufacturing workers (n = 1200), from which self-assessed exposures to physical and psychosocial stressors were also obtained. In this cohort, decision latitude was greater with higher routinization level (p <>


[avatar for pyschosocial stress]

BrooklynDodger(s) Comments:
BrooklynDodger is giving in to this psychosocial stuff. As manufacturing jobs go away - jobs where there are stressors which can be objectively and quantitatively measured, then abated according to the hierarchy of controls - the Dodger thinks public health scientists have to look at the stuff euphemized as "work organization."

The basic framework for job-related psychosocial stress is the demand-control-support paradigm. The paradigm has a certain construct validity. The key document in work organization investigation is the job content questionnaire. The Dodger stepped up to venerable technique of self-experimentation and took the questionnaire. Frankly, it sucks, and especially so when applied to hourly factory jobs. The questionaire was developed before we knew about ergonomics, and that the assembly line workers were mostly working in pain. The "blue collar blues" had a physical as well as psychological basis. Maybe the psychological issues were caused by the stress of pain.

Back to the Job Content Questionaire. The Dodger didn't know the answers to the questions for the Dodger's own work setting, which is not a factory job. In auto worker groups, hourly people routinely answer all the questions wrong and them claim high job satisfaction.

The questions probe subjective responses to external conditions, and don't elicit information on those conditions. A next step would be context specific focus groups to derive observational criteria to get to the stressors implicit in the questionnaire. Questions about work related pain would help.

Now to the matter at hand.

The paper documents substantial reduced routinization over a 6 year period.

Multiple non-cyclic tasks sounds like skilled trades work, which are known to lack repetitive work stressors. It's not much of a surprise the ergo reports are less, if only because walking from one task to the next is time not spent pounding steel.

The last line quoted from the abstract is maybe the most interesting contrarian observation:

"In this cohort, decision latitude was greater with higher routinization level." Wow! what does that mean?

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