Perhaps you read the exposé published by the Sydney Morning Herald last Spring.

Ergonomics is “a load of rubbish,” according to Associate Professor James McAuley, a top back pain researcher. 

“It’s an area of research that’s littered with bad studies," according to another leading researcher, Sydney University Professor Chris Maher. "And once you ignore the bad studies, you’re left with studies showing it does not work," Professor Maher said.

We don't think this is the whole picture. So this newsletter, we're diving deep into the science of ergonomics.

First up, we take a closer look at the aforementioned exposé. We challenge the view that all ergonomics is snake oil salesmanship (though some certainly is), and provide you with the information you need to distinguish between health-generating and wealth-generating operators.

Next, we chat with a local expert, Professor Robin Burgess-Limerick, who recently reviewed the evidence around a particular kind of ergonomics known as participatory ergonomics. He concludes that participatory programs are often but not always successful. Robin told us that success hinges on specific workplace factors. Read on to see if your workplace is well-placed to benefit from a participatory intervention.

Then we hear from our own resident expert, Dr Mary Wyatt. She provides a comprehensive introduction to ergonomic principles, with a focus on participatory ergonomics.

Finally we re-share a webinar hosted by physiotherapist Rachel Doody and occupational therapist Emma Morgan, who talk us through the development of a participatory ergonomics program tackling manual handling risks.

The Sydney Morning Herald was right: not all ergonomics is evidence-based. But that doesn't mean the whole field is a rort. It's always a mistake to toss the baby out with the bath water - no matter how ergonomically you chuck the little treasure!

Happy reading!

Not all ergonomics is snake oil salesmanship


 Gabrielle Lis

Sorting the healthy from the makin’-me-wealthy when it comes to the lucrative field of workplace ergonomics.

In the many years I’ve been writing for RTWMatters, we’ve published multiple articles about ergonomics. To list just a few examples, we’ve covered the ergonomics of seated workstations and standing workstations, and described how ergonomic assessments can help identify recovery-enhancing modified duties following work injury.  Given the evidence-based nature of the content on RTWMatters, I was surprised to read an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald in Spring 2018, deriding ergonomics as a non-scientific, money-spinning rort.

Webinar Recording: Participatory Ergonomics & Manual Handling


 Emma Morgan & Rachel Doody

This presentation will discuss how “Participatory Ergonomic” principles can be considered and implemented to increase workplace involvement in effectively controlling manual handling risks.

About the webinar: Preventing manual handling  injuries continues to be a challenge for many organisations. This webinar includes: A case study illustrating the holistic causes of manual handling injuries; Information about hazardous manual tasks (not focusing just on the manual handling);   An introduction to Participatory Ergonomics, describing how it can apply to policies & procedures, workplace application and training.

Works often but not always: a closer look at participatory ergonomics


 Gabrielle Lis

Not all participatory ergonomics programs are created equal, Professor Robin Burgess-Limerick tells RTWMatters. So what works, and what doesn’t?

Inspired by an anti-ergonomics article published in the Sydney Morning Herald, we’ve been delving into the difference between “snake oil ergonomics” and evidence-based ergonomics, especially the crowd-sourced wisdom of participatory ergonomics. In his 2018 review of the evidence around participatory ergonomics, Professor Robin Burgess-Limerick at the Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre, Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland, described the field in this way: “Participatory ergonomics means actively involving workers in developing and implementing workplace changes which will improve productivity and reduce risks to safety and health…The underpinning assumptions are that: workers are the experts; and, given appropriate knowledge, skills, tools, facilitation, resources and encouragement, they are best placed to identify and analyse problems, and to develop and implement solutions which will be both effective in reducing injury risks and improving productivity and be acceptable to those effected.

Intervention practices for depression in the workplace


 Dr Mary Wyatt

Researchers from Canada sought to summarise the research on interventions for depression in the workplace.

People who are depressed may be off work for extended periods. It can have a major bearing on their long term financial and general wellbeing, and long term work absence from depression is a major cost to employers and the community. Researchers from Canada sought to summarise the research on interventions for depression in the workplace. They followed the Cochrane Collaboration methods to summarise research.

National News

Pre-shift smoko injury compensated: lawyer explains why

Published on February 11, 2019

You've probably heard about the Maccas worker who toppled from the roof after smoking a cigarette up there prior to the start of the night shift. Many people raised their eyebrows when the Industrial Court of Queensland ruled she was eligible for workers' compensation for the broken leg she sustained when she fell. If you want to understand why the court ruled as it did - and get a sense of how the precedent could effect your workplace - the Radio National Law Report recently spoke with one of her lawyers, Candice Heisler. Follow the link to download the audio.

World News

Exercise protects against depression - but don't ask me to measure it!

Published on February 01, 2019

We've long been aware that people who exercise more tend to be less depressed. But does this mean that exercise prevents depression, or that depression prevents exercise?

Drawing on genetic and other data from 611 ,583 adult participants in the UK Biobank Study, ingenious researchers looked for relationships between self-reported exercise levels, objective exercise levels (measured via an accelerometer) and symptoms of depression. They also used a technique called Mendelian randomisation which is...too complicated for us to summarise here! Basically, it involves using population wide genetic predispositions (e.g. genes associated with depression) to better isolate the impact of environmental influences (e.g. exercise) on the development of health problems.

The researchers found support for the idea that objectively-measured exercise protects against depression. They did not find evidence to support the idea that depression causes people to do less exercise. Interestingly, they also found that self-reported exercise had no relationship to depression. They put this down to the fact that social pressures, personal biases and mood might cause people to misreport or misremember how much exercise they did. 

So actual exercise protects against depression - but good intentions don't!


Workplace stigma and mental health

Published on February 11, 2019

From an interview with UC Berkeley and UCSF professor, and internationally recognized psychologist, Stephen Hinshaw: “If we are in the default position where it’s too shameful to talk about, we’re lost. We have to get away from the noxious default that you can never talk about it because it shows “you’re weak.” Mental illness isn’t rare, especially when we think of it in the spectrum. We have to change work culture so that it’s acceptable to believe that you are not weak, or will get in trouble, or will be treated differently by talking about your mental health. And workplaces need to communicate and encourage that it’s okay to get support and treatment.

Creating a culture where we can’t talk about mental health is shooting ourselves in the foot in being a productive society. We are conditioned to go to extremes in our mind like violent school shooters, severe schizophrenia—that’s a tiny percent of people with very severe, untreated chronic mental illness. What about everyone else? What about the 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men in the U.S. that will have major depression in their lifetime? Mental health is everywhere, but you wouldn’t know it because we bury it because we don’t want to be perceived as weak, and we don’t want to be outcast.”

Back injury, addiction and RTW

Published on February 11, 2019

In this report from Minneapolis, work injury kicks off a bad-to-worse sequence, in which a meat cutter with a bad back moves from painkiller misuse to a heroin addiction. But work is also playing a role in re-establishing sobriety, with Johnny Petty describing the sense of pride and purpose he feels in holding down a job after many wasted years.

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