Category Archives: News

Flexible working practices – helping to make work good for us


Victoria Weale, a staff member and PhD student in the Centre for Ergonomics, Safety and Health was the recent winner of the Three Minute Thesis competition at the International Ergonomics Association Triennial Congress. Congratulations Victoria!

Victoria says:

“My research looks at work life balance and its effects on the health and wellbeing of workers in residential aged care. Addressing imbalances can create work that is good for us by enhancing workers’ health and wellbeing. This can aid recruitment and retention of people into this essential, growing sector.”

Below is the script from her winning presentation:

Work life balance. If you work, it’s probably on your mind. How much you’re working, and how it’s affecting you and those around you. With changes in technology and the pressure to do more at work, it’s one of the pressing issues of our time.

My research is looking at work life balance and its effects on the health and wellbeing of workers in residential aged care. This is a growing industry sector because as a nation, we’re getting older. We want our loved ones, and ourselves, to be cared for by people who are healthy, and enjoy and are committed to their work. But as the population ages, this sector will need more workers, and how can we encourage people into this physically and emotionally demanding work, and then make them want to stay there?

We know that work can be good or bad for our health, so, we want to strive towards work that enhances workers’ health and wellbeing. This can result in huge positive impacts, not just for the worker, but also for their family and society.

The use of flexible work practices that support employees to achieve a good work life balance is one way to ensure that the work is good work, which can improve people’s health and welling. My research will identify the flexible work practices that are used in residential aged care and examine the relationships between work life balance and outcomes such as health, job satisfaction, and other indicators of wellbeing.

So far I’ve found that whilst there are lots of challenges for staff working in this sector, there are also many positives, such as the fact that many workers have significant control over the number of hours they work, and when they work them. This flexibility is highly valued by staff as it allows them to combine work with their important non-work activities, which for some people, enables them to participate in the workforce.

The next step is to analyse questionnaire data, and I’m expecting to see relationships between work life balance and indicators of health and wellbeing.

The results of my work can be used to inform policy relating to the use of flexible working practices, so that for these essential care workers, the load is lightened and difficult work is made better. By designing work to enhance workers’ health and wellbeing, people will want to come into the sector and stay there. Surely this should be a priority for us all, as it’s these hard working men and women who will to look after us and our loved ones in our last few years of life.

Do you work in pain?

Working With Pain: What can workplaces do to support employees with persistent musculoskeletal pain to stay at work?

“Do you work in pain?” was the question asked by Dr Jodi Oakman’s research team in order to recruit participants for their recent study. The study investigated the kinds of supports that assist employees with persistent musculoskeletal pain to maintain productive employment.

Persistent musculoskeletal pain is commonly caused by conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia or back injuries. Approximately 6.1 million Australians are affected by these conditions. Economic costs are significant due to loss of productivity, reduced workforce participation, lost income tax and increased government support payments. In general, work is good for health and those who are unable to work face substantial impacts on their finances, health and mental wellbeing. Those with persistent musculoskeletal pain are less likely than their peers to be able to maintain productive employment.

The project explored the relationship between the workplace and employee and in particular, the supports needed to encourage productive employment for those with persistent pain. Fifty working individuals with persistent musculoskeletal pain completed questionnaires and 35 also undertook semi-structured telephone interviews which explored a range of issues related to: barriers and enablers to maintaining productive employment, coping strategies, workplace supports and non-workplace supports.

Organisational factors had a significant impact on working productively; as an enabler as well as a barrier to maintaining employment. Organisational support was critical in maintaining employment, in particular the role of a supportive supervisor and manager who allowed employees to control their work routine (including hours and times of work). A lack of organisational support and strained relationships between participants and co-workers was likely to have negative impacts on employee productivity. Several participants in the study raised the issue of discrimination due to employers’ or potential employers’ perceptions that employees with persistent pain conditions are a financial liability due to the risk of potential compensation claims. A range of coping strategies were utilised by participants to help them maintain their productivity at work: changing the nature of their work, taking regular breaks, accessing flexible work hours (changing start or finish times), working longer when well, enlisting support from colleagues, modifying the work environment and adjusting the work routine.

For further information on this study go to:

New publications from the Centre for Ergonomics, Safety and Health

Dr Jodi Oakman, Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Ergonomics, Safety and Health, has recently had two articles published. Jodi’s research considers different industry sectors in relation to the prediction and risk management of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD). Risk factors such as physical and psychosocial hazards are considered as predictors for WMSDs. The publications provide support for new approaches to more systematic WMSD risk management, including the use of a ‘toolkit’ to assist organisations to identify and address the most relevant WMSD risks in their workplaces.

For some holiday reading, Jodi’s publications are listed:

Oakman, J. & Chan, S. (2015). Risk Management: Where should we target strategies to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders? Safety Science. 73 (March ) 99-105.

Oakman, J., Macdonald, W., & Wells, Y. (2014). The need for change: Evidence to support a more comprehensive approach to risk management of musculoskeletal disorders in non-nursing employees sector. Applied Ergonomics, 45 (6) 1634-1640.

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia

At the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia (HFESA) conference, which was held in Adelaide in November, Dr Jodi Oakman, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors, at La Trobe University,  took over the role of HFESA Secretary and will hold this position for 2 years, Jenny Long is HFESA president and Rodney Powell is treasurer (see photo). These two years will include the period in which the International Ergonomics Association Conference will be held in Melbourne (see ). The IEA conference will be a great opportunity to see and meet international colleagues in the field of ergonomics. We strongly recommend attending at least some of the conference and of course the social events.

Presentations from researchers from The Netherlands- Roos Schelvis

Roos Schelvis (Health Psychologist)

Bottom-up innovation in vocational education: design and process lessons

The aim of the Bottom-up Innovation project is to increase vitality and decrease need for recovery in teachers of two Dutch vocational schools, by implementing a participatory, primary preventive and organizational level occupational health intervention. The design of the project as well as some results of the implementation process will be discussed.

“Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness” stated American psychotherapist Richard Carlson. Set aside the bluntness of the statement I found some truth in it. In my work as a research scientist at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TNO, I aim to make work-related stress more ‘unacceptable’ for employers, employees, social partners and policy makers. My projectwork ranges from developing a definition for ‘work stress’ with social partners, to designing an agression prevention tool that makes the primary organizational process safer, till evaluating an intervention on happy and healthy working for employees in vocational education. For the last named project I’m affiliated to VU University Medical Centre Amsterdam and Twente University as a PhD candidate.


Presentations from researchers from The Netherlands- Fenna Leijten

School seminar series Wednesday 24th of September 1.00-2.00 Room HS1/115

Two researchers from The Netherlands will present at the next School Seminar.

Fenna Leijten

The Study on Employment, Ability and Motivation, STREAM

In this longitudinal cohort study (2010-2014), working, self-employed, and non-employed persons aged 45-64 years in the Netherlands filled out an annual questionnaire. The goal of this study is to gain insight into how older workers can remain employed, healthy, and productively for longer. The design and possibilities of this study will be described, as well as some results.

Fenna has a background in Social Psychological and in Public Health. She is doing a PhD at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on the influence of health problems on work ability and productivity in older employees, and the role that work and personal factors play in this relation. In her research she conducts both quantitative studies using large national datasets and qualitative studies. Furthermore, she is a research scientist at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TNO, where she works on diverse projects focusing on integrated and innovative health care.

New research published in ‘Applied Ergonomics’

Jodi and colleagues have recently published an article in Applied Ergonomics on their work on prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) in the health care sector. The article examines predictors of WMSDs in health care sector employees and found that both psychosocial and physical hazards were related to increased WMSD risk. On the basis of this they propose that risk management strategies need to take into account all hazards to be maximally effective. The article can be found in Applied Ergonomics, see details below. 

Developing a comprehensive approach to risk management of musculoskeletal disorders in non-nursing health care sector employee

Applied ErgonomicsVolume 45, Issue 6November 2014Pages 1634-1640

Jodi Oakman, Wendy Macdonald, Yvonne Wells


This study of selected jobs in the health care sector explored a range of physical and psychosocial factors to identify those that most strongly predicted work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) risk. A self-report survey was used to collect data on physical and psychosocial risk factors from employees in three health care organisations in Victoria, Australia. Multivariate analyses demonstrated the importance of both psychosocial and physical hazards in predicting WMSD risk and provides evidence for risk management of WMSDs to incorporate a more comprehensive and integrated approach. Use of a risk management toolkit is recommended to address WMSD risk in the workplace.

A reminder that alumni of La Trobe University are able to access the library once they have joined the alumni program. See the link here for a range of benefits:



Ergonomics, Safety and Health on campus day

Graduate certificate and Masters of Ergonomics students recently participated in an on-campus day at La Trobe University. There were presentations from academics and ergonomic practitioners as well as practical workshops.

Students enrolled in OHC had the option of participating in a site visit where we were given a guided tour through the high end facilities of the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science. Following this students participated in an exercise where they analysed Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).


Students Peta, Chris, Mark and Tafi hard at work looking at MSDS




Award winning student

Congratulations Cameron!


The Safety Institute of Australia together with the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board announced the winners of national OHS education awards at the recent Dr Eric Wigglesworth Memorial Lecture. Congratulations to Cameron Stevens who completed a Masters of Ergonomics, Safety and Health at Latrobe University and was awarded the National OHS Education Award at the Postgraduate level. Cameron received a study grant of $2000 together with membership of the SIA. The Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors also recieved a plaque of recognition.

Cameron is pictured with another award winner, Dr Christine Teague from Edith Cowan University, as well as Phil Lovelock of SIA.

Research: Risk Management Toolkit

Research at the Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors

A central focus of the research program at the Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors is focused on prevention of musculoskeletal disorders. In particular the need for a more comprehensive approach to manage this complex set of problems which encompasses identification and development of appropriate controls to address physical and psychosocial hazards and risks in the work place.

Our current work in this area is focused on the development of a Risk Management Toolkit to assist organisations with developing a comprehensive approach for managing MSDs.

We have been successful in attaining a 2014 Development grant from Injury Safety Compensation Recovery Research to examine: Workplace barriers to reducing incidence of musculoskeletal and mental disorders.