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Work-organisational and personal factors associated with upper body musculoskeletal disorders among sewing machine operators
  1. Pin-Chieh Wang1,2,
  2. David M Rempel3,
  3. Robert J Harrison4,
  4. Jacqueline Chan5,
  5. Beate R Ritz1
  1. 1
    Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, USA
  2. 2
    Department of Family Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, USA
  3. 3
    Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, USA
  4. 4
    Occupational Health Branch, California Department of Health Services, Oakland, USA
  5. 5
    Public Health Institute, Oakland, USA
  1. Beate R Ritz, MD, PhD, Department of Epidemiology, UCLA, School of Public Health, 71-254 CHS, BOX 951772, 650 Charles E. Young Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1772, USA; britz{at}


Objective : To assess the contribution of work-organisational and personal factors to the prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) among garment workers in Los Angeles.

Methods : This is a cross-sectional study of self-reported musculoskeletal symptoms among 520 sewing machine operators from 13 garment industry sewing shops. Detailed information on work-organisational factors, personal factors, and musculoskeletal symptoms were obtained in face-to-face interviews. The outcome of interest, upper body WMSD, was defined as a worker experiencing moderate or severe musculoskeletal pain. Unconditional logistic regression models were adopted to assess the association between both work-organisational factors and personal factors and the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain.

Results : The prevalence of moderate or severe musculoskeletal pain in the neck/shoulder region was 24% and for distal upper extremity it was 16%. Elevated prevalence of upper body pain was associated with age less than 30 years, female gender, Hispanic ethnicity, being single, having a diagnosis of a MSD or a systemic illness, working more than 10 years as a sewing machine operator, using a single sewing machine, work in large shops, higher work–rest ratios, high physical exertion, high physical isometric loads, high job demand, and low job satisfaction.

Conclusion : Work-organisational and personal factors were associated with increased prevalence of moderate or severe upper body musculoskeletal pain among garment workers. Owners of sewing companies may be able to reduce or prevent WMSDs among employees by adopting rotations between different types of workstations thus increasing task variety; by either shortening work periods or increasing rest periods to reduce the work–rest ratio; and by improving the work-organisation to control psychosocial stressors. The findings may guide prevention efforts in the garment sector and have important public health implications for this workforce of largely immigrant labourers.

  • work organisation
  • musculoskeletal disorder
  • ergonomic
  • psychosocial
  • sewing machine

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