Question 3: How effective and informative are current workplace MSD assessment approaches?

We know that hazard identification and risk assessment is an important first step for workplaces. But we wonder: How effective and informative are current workplace risk assessment approaches, especially for small and medium sized enterprises that employ the majority of workers? There is a wide variety of hazard identification and risk assessment approaches that include interviews, questionnaires, observational approaches and pencil and paper tools with scoring systems to estimate risk or intervention priorities. But little has been done to document their measurement characteristics such as their reliability between people or over time or their responsiveness to workplace change. More technically demanding methods are available and are used in research and some epidemiological studies, however we have found that these are infrequently used, except by some experts.

Two other important issues relate to the effectiveness of risk assessment approaches. The first problem results from the typical dominance of physical risk factor assessments and the resulting blindness to psychosocial factors and their connected workplace organizational factors. Interventions on potentially critical work organizational factors may not be vigorously pursued or may be seen as outside the realm of MSD prevention. The other is that high levels of risk factors are relatively easy to document, even with moderate training and simple tools, but, because the risk factors for MSDs are ubiquitous, some judgment of the level of risk is needed for prioritization. The utility of developing thresholds and limit values enters the discussion at this point. As the worst exposures are eliminated - the low hanging fruit - identifying further risks becomes increasingly difficult without more training and better tools. Yet little attention has been paid to the training required to use even simple tools effectively. 

For more information, read the editorial Why have we not solved the MSD problem?, by Dr. Richard Wells.