OBJECTIVES: To determine the prevalence and risk factors for work related musculoskeletal disorders among union carpenters. METHODS: A detailed questionnaire on musculoskeletal symptoms and work history was administered to 522 carpenters. The symptom questions assessed if carpenters experienced pain, numbness, or tingling in a particular body region. A subset of this group then received a physical examination of the upper extremities and knees. RESULTS: The study group was primarily white (94.9%) and male (97.8%) with a mean age of 42.3 years. The highest prevalence of work related musculoskeletal disorders cases by carpentry specialty ranged from 20%-24% for those doing drywall or ceiling, finishing or framing, and the building of concrete forms. Generally, as duration of employment increased, the prevalence of symptoms increased. An adjusted logistic regression analysis showed that the group with the longest (> or = 20 years) duration of employment in carpentry was significantly associated with work related musculoskeletal disorders of the shoulders (odds ratio (OR) 3.2, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.1 to 8.9), hands or wrists (OR 3.1, 95% CI 1.1 to 8.4), and knees (OR 3.5, 95% CI 1.3 to 9.2). Also, analyses showed that carpenters who reported that they had little or no influence over their work schedule had significant increases of work related musculoskeletal disorders of the shoulders, hips, and knees with ORs of 1.9 (95% CI 1.1 to 3.2), 2.9 (95% CI 1.1 to 7.2), and 2.3 (95% CI 1.2 to 4.1), respectively. Feeling exhausted at the end of day was also a significant risk factor for work related musculoskeletal disorders of the knee (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.1 to 3.1). Upper extremity disorders were the most prevalent work related musculoskeletal disorders reported among all carpenters. Drywall or ceiling activities involve a considerable amount of repetitive motion and awkward postures often with arms raised holding heavy dry walls in place, whereas form work is notable for extensive lumbar flexion and had the two highest rates of work related musculoskeletal disorders. The psychosocial element of job control was associated with both upper and lower extremity disorders. These union carpenters, who were relatively young, already were experiencing considerable work related physical problems. CONCLUSION: This study supports the need for vigilant ergonomic intervention at job sites and early ergonomic education as an integral part of apprenticeship school training to ensure that carpenters remain fit and healthy throughout their working lifetime.
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