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IOSH study examines break-taking behaviour and MSDs

Posted by Tracy Seward

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health has funded a study, undertaken by the University of Derby, which has looked at what can be done to encourage office and call centre workers to take more postural breaks. It is thought that a simple plan of action by employers could be an easy solution.

Researchers analysed the impact of different techniques designed to change workers’ behaviour, including pre-planning when to take breaks and using a buzzer to remind staff to change their posture after an hour’s inactivity.
The study revealed that:

  • planning breaks led to a meaningful increase in postural changes over a day
  • the buzzer did not significantly increase break-taking, participants reported that simply wearing the device encouraged them to get up more.

Looking at 195 people’s break-taking behaviour, the aim of the study was to see how regularly staff got up from their desks before, immediately following and several months after the introduction of behaviour change interventions.
A control group were simply asked to try to take more postural breaks, while a second group drew up a plan for their break-taking.

A third group also planned their breaks but had an added hourly prompt from a buzzing device, while the fourth set of workers used the device but didn’t formally plan their breaks.

The aim was to take a break for a minimum of 30 seconds at least once every hour throughout the working day.
The researchers found that the office workers, however, changed their posture more than three times an hour on average.

The research also concluded that workers were more likely to change their behaviour in relation to taking postural breaks if companies made sure their employees understood the benefits, had the backing of senior management, and if management made changes to the work environment to support the goal.

By regularly changing their posture, previous research has shown that workers can reduce the risk of developing MSDs as well as related issues such as fatigue and discomfort.

IOSH says health and safety practitioners should be encouraged to focus attention on the other risks for Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) – which include back and joint pain – such as overall workload, prolonged poor posture and psychosocial factors.

Jane White, Research and Information Services Manager at IOSH, said: “MSDs are a big problem in the workplace and changing behaviour and an organisation’s culture to help address this issue can be challenging.

“It is therefore great that this research arms employer and health and safety practitioners with what can be a simple, yet powerful and inexpensive strategy.”

Dr Claire Williams, the Principal Researcher on the project from the University of Derby, said: “The power of this intervention lies in its simplicity – with a pen and paper and a few minutes of thought, participants wrote plans which helped them change their postural break taking behaviour.”

It is hoped the results of the study will be used to propose ways of including behaviour change techniques in training and information materials provided by health and safety practitioners.

For more details about the research, visit www.iosh.co.uk/movemore

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July 2014

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