Work posture and workload – ergonomics

Ergonomics means adapting work to people to prevent the risk of ill health and accidents. It is very much about how to plan and organise the work – you need see the whole picture.

Ergonomics includes physical, organisational and mental aspects of the work environment. Ergonomic improvements in a business must affect both the employees’ conditions and the technical and organisational conditions.

Even when planning a business, good ergonomics should permeate the design and interior of the premises and workplaces. To feel good and be able to perform well at work, there must be sufficient variation in movement and load and the possibility to recover.

To organise work so that it is good for all employees, you may need to consider whether women and men have the same opportunities for varied loads and whether there are employees who need specific adaptations to be made to their work. The organisation of work content, working hours and pay also has a positive and negative impact on the body.

This page contains information on how the workplace and work can be optimised from an ergonomic perspective. The information is based on the Swedish Work Environment Authority’s regulations on ergonomics for the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders, AFS 2012:2, which deal with the prevention of hazardous and unnecessarily tiring loads for the muscles, joints and bones as well as the vocal cords, but other regulations may also be useful. Section 4 of the regulations on ergonomics for the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders state that load should be assessed on the basis of how often, how much and for how long the work activities are performed. The regulations contain models for assessing the risk of musculoskeletal injury during lifting, sitting, standing and repetitive work. There are also other checklists and assessment models on our website.

Risk of musculoskeletal injury

There is a strong connection between musculoskeletal disorders and the conditions of the work environment. Musculoskeletal disorders often occur in connection with heavy lifting, repetitive work, uncomfortable, strenuous and stressful work postures and work movements. A high pace of work and stress can contribute greatly to the development of musculoskeletal disorders. Poor visual conditions can also contribute to stressful work postures. The vocal cords can be exposed to too much pressure if the acoustic conditions in a room are not suitable for speech.

Organisational conditions, such as time pressure, strongly controlled work and insufficient time for recovery, can contribute to musculoskeletal disorders. Under a high mental load, when a lot of information is to be processed and quick decisions are needed, muscle tension increases and affects the risk of discomfort.

Vibrations can also cause musculoskeletal disorders. Read more about harmful vibrations on our website.

Musculoskeletal disorders occur in almost all industries. It is common for women in the health and care sectors, as well as cleaning and the restaurant sector, to have problems. For men, musculoskeletal disorders are most common in the construction industry, the transport sector and in agriculture. Both women and men in the manufacturing and assembly industries are affected. Problems with the vocal cords are common in call centres and schools. You will find more information about musculoskeletal disorders and how to work to prevent them on our healthcare, care and social services pages, and our transport and communications pages.

Stressful work postures and work movements

People can perform and take most work movements and postures without harming themselves. The body is built for movement and carrying loads, and even thrives on it as long as there is variation in movements and load and the opportunity to recover.

The risk of problems increases when working in sharply bent, stretched or twisted work postures. Joints that are loaded when bent or stretched to the maximum are more exposed.

It becomes more difficult to recover if movements are repeated often or last for a long time, and then the risk of problems increases.

When the muscles work without a break, and without any external movement (known as static muscle work), the blood flow to the muscles deteriorates and the risk of musculoskeletal disorders increases. For example, the shoulder often works statically during repetitive work with the hands on the assembly line.

Responsibility and preventive work on work posture and load

Employer’s responsibility

The employer is responsible for ensuring that the work and the workplace are ergonomically well designed and that employees have opportunities to influence how their own work is planned and carried out so that there is sufficient movement variation and recovery time. The employer must examine the working conditions and assess the risks of being able to implement measures to prevent ill health and accidents. When the employer plans measures, it is important to have a holistic perspective that includes employees, technology and organisation. When an employee is injured in an accident due to acute overload, or gets an occupational disease due to prolonged overload, the employer must act. The sooner action is taken, the easier it will be for the employee to get back to work.

Employees’ responsibility

Employees must pay attention to risks in the work environment and report them to their employer. To avoid risks of disorders and accidents, employees must also use aids and protective equipment and follow the employer’s instructions on how to carry out the work.

Investigate the risks of musculoskeletal injuries in the work environment

Employers, safety representatives and employees must together regularly examine working conditions to detect the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.

Assess the risks of musculoskeletal injury

To assess whether work movements and work postures entail a risk of problems, there are assessment models in the Swedish Work Environment Authority’s regulations on ergonomics for the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders, AFS 2012:2.

Ergonomics for the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (AFS 2012:2), regulations

Last updated 2020-12-13