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A randomised controlled trial evaluating the effects of two workstation interventions on upper body pain and incident musculoskeletal disorders among computer operators

Abstract

Background: Call centre work with computers is associated with increased rates of upper body pain and musculoskeletal disorders.

Methods: This one year, randomised controlled intervention trial evaluated the effects of a wide forearm support surface and a trackball on upper body pain severity and incident musculoskeletal disorders among 182 call centre operators at a large healthcare company. Participants were randomised to receive (1) ergonomics training only, (2) training plus a trackball, (3) training plus a forearm support, or (4) training plus a trackball and forearm support. Outcome measures were weekly pain severity scores and diagnosis of incident musculoskeletal disorder in the upper extremities or the neck/shoulder region based on physical examination performed by a physician blinded to intervention. Analyses using Cox proportional hazard models and linear regression models adjusted for demographic factors, baseline pain levels, and psychosocial job factors.

Results: Post-intervention, 63 participants were diagnosed with one or more incident musculoskeletal disorders. Hazard rate ratios showed a protective effect of the armboard for neck/shoulder disorders (HR = 0.49, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.97) after adjusting for baseline pain levels and demographic and psychosocial factors. The armboard also significantly reduced neck/shoulder pain (p = 0.01) and right upper extremity pain (p = 0.002) in comparison to the control group. A return-on-investment model predicted a full return of armboard and installation costs within 10.6 months.

Conclusion: Providing a large forearm support combined with ergonomic training is an effective intervention to prevent upper body musculoskeletal disorders and reduce upper body pain associated with computer work among call centre employees.

  • musculoskeletal
  • computer
  • upper extremity
  • intervention
  • RCT

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