Further information on physical load

What is physical load?

Musculoskeletal complaints are responsible for one-third of the reported cases of absenteeism and disability. Physical load forms the core of the problem, and is one of the main factors hindering sustained healthy, productive work. The costs for industry and government are high. It is manifestly important, therefore, to gain a clear insight into the factors leading to (undue) physical load and the possible risks associated with it. Physical load may be caused by heavy or repetitive work in the building trade or industry, or static loads on people who spend many hours each day behind a computer or whose work involves prolonged unfavourable working postures. Activities involving substantial physical load include lifting and carrying, pushing and pulling, hand and arm tasks, work associated with unfavourable working postures and working with vibratory tools.

The risk of musculoskeletal complaints (complaints of muscles, tendons and/or joints) is slight as long as the physical load is not too high or too low. Physical overloading is caused for example by lifting or pushing heavy objects, daily use of vibratory tools or prolonged work while bending over. Physical underloading (lack of exercise) is caused for example by prolonged sedentary work without periodic breaks for movement. Both the degree of the physical load and its duration are important in determining the associated risks. Knowledge of the risks involved in a particular type of work provides a basis for the formulation and implementation of preventive measures.

But how do you as the person within your organization responsible for Health & Safety know what risks are associated with a particular task?

Physical load self assessment tools

TNO (the Dutch organization for Applied Scientific Research) has been working together with the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment for a number of years to develop a set of tools that can be used by those responsible for Health & Safety in a given organization for independent assessment of various types of load. These tools are easy and quick to use without specific previous knowledge or training. The Social Affairs and Employment Inspectorate also makes use of these tools as a basis for its enforcement policy, in order to avoid discrepancies between your own assessment and that of the Inspectorate.

Level I and Level II assessments

The toolkit consists of one level I assessment tool and a number of level II assessment tools. The physical load checklist is a level I tool – that is, a tool that can be used for initial screening for a wide variety of physical loads such as lifting and pushing, but also computer work and work involving different working postures. By answering a series of short questions, you will gain insight into the various forms of physical load in your working environment that might lead to a risk of musculoskeletal complaints, and will be referred to the appropriate level II tool that can be used for a detailed risk assessment. A flow diagram of this procedure is given below.

overview with level I and level II assessments following up the checklist physical load

The level II instruments are follow up instruments. They can be used for detailed investigation if the checklist shows a possible risk in the fields of activity in question. Of course, you can also start your assessment with a level II instrument if indicatory risks are already known. After using a level II instrument you know the underlying risk factors and can start selecting or implementing measures.

Both level I and level II tools can be used without specific previous knowledge or training, and yield a quick assessment. In certain cases where a level II assessment does not provide the necessary clarification, advanced level III assessment is required. Such studies do require specific previous knowledge, and take longer. You will need to call on the services of specialists such as ergonomists or Health & Safety advisors here. TNO can provide support and has experts in this field.

Level II assessments

There are other level II assessment tools that can be used when the checklist has indicated a possible elevated risk. The following hyperlinks will take you straight to the relevant page:

There are no level II assessment tools for energetic overload and underload and the associated health complaints, but the checklist does give brief recommendations in each case.

Physical load and TNO

TNO supports companies, sectoral organizations, intermediaries, national and international authorities in the assessment and optimization of physical load in various work situations through research and consultancy projects. Various subsidies are available for Dutch companies with specific problems in this field or that need to innovate. Small and medium enterprises can also make use of such arrangements when they have research or other questions they wish to submit to TNO.