Question 4: How effective are the recommended interventions in actually reducing MSDs in the workplace?

A substantial number of interventions, many that are industry specific, have been developed and used widely. Reducing awkward postures by workstation redesign or adjustment is a well-established practice and recommendations are available for postural and force exposures as well as manual material handling tasks. There is evidence that introduction of specific pieces of equipment are beneficial in the medium term but that equipment, training and policies must be combined. The body of case studies supports the effectiveness of ergonomics programs and the business consensus is that multi-component programs are preferable

Yet a key question remains: can the interventions that we are recommending actually reduce MSDs in the workplace? A number of concerns are worth highlighting in this challenging area. It can be argued that most of the intervention research studies that have been published represent, in effect, efficacy studies. They are performed in a laboratory or workplace settings under well-controlled, even ideal, conditions -- ideal in the sense that the interveners are highly competent, the organizations are carefully selected, and a large amount of resources are typically dedicated to the intervention. If positive effects are not seen in these research interventions studies, one is left with the question of whether the intervention was not efficacious, whether the implementation was not intense enough or sustained for long enough, or whether the study and its design were unable to detect any changes. In these complex settings it is important to understand why the intervention was or was not efficacious so as to better plan broad implementation strategies. 

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