Tag Archives: Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors

Flexible working practices – helping to make work good for us

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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:

http://www.arthritisvic.org.au/Research/AOV-Funded-Research/Completed/Working-with-Pain

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. http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1QAmB3IVV9MWh6

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. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003687014001033

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 http://iea2015.org ). 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.

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.