Category Archives: work-related musculoskeletal disorders

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.

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: