Is Job Rotation the Answer to Reducing Injury Risk?

By Matt Middlesworth January 12, 2015

Have you been considering job rotation as part of your musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) prevention strategy?

Maybe you’ve pushed for it and gotten some pushback. Or maybe you’re just doing your research and learning more.

Either way, the question remains: is job rotation an effective way to reduce injury risk?

What Is Job Rotation?

Job rotation is the structured interchange of workers between different jobs, requiring workers to rotate between different workstations or jobs at certain time intervals. It increases the variety of tasks required as the worker takes on more duties, enlarging the physical demands and adding variety to the job.

Job rotation should consider different muscle groups and functional roles, and evaluate job exertion levels for each group. The rotation sequence or schedule should be based on job rotation evaluator tool results to ensure that the different jobs in the rotation do not present the same ergonomic stressors to the same parts of the body (muscle-tendon groups).

OSHA’s Take

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guidelines for job rotation: “Job rotation should be used with caution and as a preventive measure, not as a response to symptoms. The principle of job rotation is to alleviate physical fatigue and stress of a particular set of muscles and tendons by rotating employees among other jobs that use different muscle-tendon groups. If rotation is utilized, the job analyses must be reviewed by a qualified person to ensure that the same muscle-tendon groups are not used.

“A ‘qualified person’ is one who has thorough training and experience sufficient to identify ergonomic hazards in the workplace and recommend an effective means of correction; for example, a plant engineer fully trained in ergonomics, not necessarily an ergonomist. In analyzing jobs for rotation, the qualified person must have sufficient expertise to identify the ergonomic stresses each job presents and which muscles and tendons are used.

“Job rotation can mean that a worker performs two or more different tasks in different parts of the day (i.e., switching between task “A” and task “B” at 2-hour or 4-hour intervals). The important consideration is to ensure that the different tasks do not present the same ergonomic stressors to the same parts of the body. There is no single work-rest regimen that OSHA recommends; it must be determined by the nature of the task.”

The benefits of job rotation include:

  • Reduced exposure to focused physical demands of one job.
  • Reduced physiological stress, strain and fatigue to muscle groups used for one job.
  • Reduced employee exposure to high-risk job demands.
  • Reduced MSD incidents and severity.
  • Increased innovation and improved work process efficiency.
  • Improved employee skill base and increased job assignment flexibility over time.
  • Reduced boredom and complacency.
  • Increased productivity and quality.
  • Reduced absenteeism and turnover.

Drawbacks of Job Rotation

It’s important to remember that job rotation alone does not change the risk factors present in the workplace, it only distributes the risk factors more evenly across a larger group of people. While the risk for some individuals will be reduced, the risk for other employees may be increased due to the new exposure to different and sometimes higher-risk job demands.

While job rotation is an effective control measure for jobs that have been identified as “problem” or “high-risk” jobs, it is not desirable that MSD risk factors are “hidden” by administrative controls.

The bottom line is that job rotation should be used as part of a comprehensive MSD prevention strategy that includes ergonomics, education and early intervention.

Consult management, supervisors, group leaders, safety and ergonomics team members and employees to determine which departments and jobs are suitable for a job rotation program.

Job rotation can be used reactively and proactively. Reactive job rotation reduces employee exposure to jobs that have been identified as “high-risk” based on an objective ergonomic assessment. Rotation can be used until engineering controls are implemented. Proactive job rotation can be implemented to prevent muscle fatigue due to exposure to job tasks that focus the work load on single muscle groups, and for additional benefits as outlined above.

Matt Middlesworth is marketing director for Ergonomics Plus, a workplace wellness and ergonomic consulting service based in Indianapolis. Copyright 2015 © Ergonomics Plus. All rights reserved.

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