Technical Report 2002-032

Health Problems with Electronic Document Handling: a longitudinal study

Carl Åborg and Anders Billing

October 2002


This study shows that electronic document handling (EDH) systems can result in increased risks of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, especially "mouse-arm syndrome", and stress-related mental and somatic symptoms. The effects of introducing an EDH system on the physical and psychosocial work environment, as well as on self-reported health and well being, were studied at four Swedish work places where clerical duties are performed. Data were collected on three separate occasions: before and 6 and 18 months after the introduction of the EDH system. The methods used were interviews, observation interviews, questionnaires, video recordings, technical measurements and expert observation and examination. The results showed an increase in time spent at visual display units (VDUs) and longer periods without taking a break at the VDUs after introduction of the EDH system. Moreover, after the introduction of the EDH system, all of the data collection methods indicated (a) an increase in workload, (b) a greater number of repetitive and monotonous tasks, (c) participants felt more constrained, (d) a higher frequency in static work postures and (e) a diminution in task variability. The questionnaires revealed an increase in musculoskeletal symptoms and in psychological and psychosomatic complaints. The introduction of EDH systems can improve the effectiveness of work over the short run, but in order not to risk the health of the users an ergonomic strategy for the design of work organization, work systems, computer systems, job tasks and workstations is necessary.

Keywords: Information technology, electronic document handling, physical and psychosocial work environment, health and well being, musculoskeletal disorders.

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