A Comparison of Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Among Operating Engineers in the United States and Slovakia

Chris L. Zimmermann1, Karol M. Hatiar2 and Thomas M Cook1

1 Injury Prevention Research Center, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA
2 Ústav Preventívnej a Klinickej Medicíny, Bratislava, Slovakia
Corresponding author: Chris L Zimmermann PhD, PT
The University of Iowa
Injury Prevention Research Center
158 IREH
Oakdale Campus
Iowa City, IA 52240-5000
Phone: (319) 335-4531
Fax: (319) 335-4225
e-mail: chris-zimmermann@uiowa.edu

CEJOEM 1998; 4(3):232-246

Operating engineers, symptoms, work-related musculoskeletal disorders, job perceptions, musculoskeletal, construction

U.S. = United States
WMD = work-related musculoskeletal disorder
STAVBA = Slovak Construction Workers Trade Union
IUOE = International Union of Operating Engineers 

Construction work has recently been an area of focus in terms of programs to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMD). In an attempt to begin to define where interventions would have the greatest benefits, a survey tool was used in the U.S. and Slovakia to determine self reported prevalences of WMD and related job factor perceptions. Responses were obtained from nearly 300 Slovak unionized equipment operators and nearly 400 U.S. unionized operating engineers. Results of the investigation indicate considerable similarity between both symptom prevalence and job factor perceptions across both countries. However, significantly more Slovak equipment operators reported missing work due to WMD than did their U.S. counterparts. A difference which may be attributed to the absence of “sick days” among U.S. operating engineers. In addition, the U.S. operators reported considerably more work-related hand and wrist symptoms and considerably fewer upper back symptoms than their Slovak counterparts. Both of these differences are most likely due to differences in equipment control design and layout. When comparing percentages of operators visiting physicians, there were very few differences. In general, perceptions of the work environment between the two groups were quite similar. Differences noted included considerably greater problems with the use of tools with design problems among Slovak operators and considerably greater problems related to working at or near their physical limits, bending or twisting their back in an awkward way and reaching overhead or away from their body among U.S. operators. This evaluation and comparison has provided insight into cultural, equipment and work organization differences. In both the U.S. and Slovakia, the data obtained should allow more focused and productive ergonomic interventions within the profession of construction heavy equipment operators.

Received: 6 June 1998 
Accepted: 7 August 1998 

Posted: 18 November 1998

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