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Ergonomics. 2009 Oct;52(10):1215-25. doi: 10.1080/00140130903039101.

Increased physical work loads in modern work--a necessity for better health and performance?

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School of Physiotherapy, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia.


Shifting workforce proportions to sedentary occupations and technology developments in traditionally physically demanding occupations have resulted in low physical workloads for many workers. Insufficient physical stress is known to have detrimental short- and long-term effects on health and physical capacity. It is argued herein that many modern workers are at risk of insufficient physical workload. Further, it is argued that the traditional physical ergonomics paradigm of reducing risk by reducing physical loads ('less is better') is not appropriate for many modern occupations. It is proposed that a new paradigm is required, where 'more can be better'. The potential for work to be seen as an arena for improving physical health and capability is discussed and the types of changes to work that may be required are outlined. The paper also discusses challenges and responsibilities presented by this new paradigm for ergonomists, employers, health and safety authorities and the community. The majority of workers in affluent communities now face the significant threat to health of insufficient physical workload. Ergonomics can design work to a prescription that can not only reduce injury risk but enhance health and capacity. However, this will require a change in paradigm.

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