Study of the musculoskeletal stress experienced by service technicians in the telecommunications sector in consideration of an ageing workforce

Project No. IFA 4195

Status:

completed 02/2014

Aims:

Over 50% of the service technicians employed by a major German telecommunications company are aged between 46 and 55. As a result, retirement will lead in the foreseeable future to a shortage of personnel. This will be exacerbated by the number of sick days caused by age-related conditions, in particular musculoskeletal diseases. The integration of older employees into the work process will thus be crucial to a company's success in the years to come.

The objective of this project was to record the stresses experienced by service technicians during their working shifts and to formulate specific recommendations for preventive activity based upon the findings. This was to enable the service technicians' workplaces to be examined and where appropriate modified with a view to preventing early retirement from the vocational activity on health grounds.

Activities/Methods:

Eight service technicians from the test-subject collective were divided into groups of younger (n=4) and older (n=4) employees. Two employees from each collective were assigned to urban and rural working environments respectively.

The stresses experienced by each test subject over a working shift were recorded by means of the CUELA system (computer-assisted measurement and long-term analysis of musculoskeletal workloads). The measurement system was adjusted to the specific conditions in practice. Recordings did not therefore have to be interrupted during the service technicians' frequent car journeys. The heart rate was also measured, and all activities documented by video.

The working shifts could be divided broadly into four categories: tasks performed at the main distribution panel (in the building) and at the cable distribution panel (at the kerbside), visits to customers' premises, and journeys undertaken by car or on foot.

Results:

The body postures and movements of the eight service technicians were measured over a complete working shift performed by each individual. Adaptation of the measurement system also enabled measurement to be extended to tasks such as entry, driving and leaving of the vehicle without interruptions.

The studies show that for substantial parts of the time, the service technicians are exposed to acceptable working conditions and fairly low stresses per working shift which should also not generally present a health problem for older workers. Slightly higher stress levels were however observed in association with tasks performed in a kneeling position, particularly work performed on cable distribution panels; such tasks can be expected to increase in scale in the future owing to the expansion of the high-speed Internet network. Occasional need for improvement was identified in the selection of the tools and instruments: alternatives were proposed by which the lifting and carrying of heavy loads could be avoided. Adjustments of the drivers' seats in vehicles were also recommended in order for unergonomic postures to be prevented. The recommendations for prevention formulated on the basis of the identified stresses were followed by the company and adopted, together with the findings from further studies into fitness for work, in a stress-prevention strategy.

Last Update:

17-Jul-2014

Project

Financed by:
  • Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung e. V. (DGUV)
Research institution(s):
  • Institut für Arbeitsschutz der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung (IFA)
Branche(s):

services

Type of hazard:

work-related health hazards

Catchwords:

ergonomics, demography, mental strain/stress

Description, key words:

ergonomics, stress, stress measurement, demographics, demographic change, service technicians, telecommunications, work analysis

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