Musculoskeletal disorders are the most frequently occurring health problems associated with long hours of computer use (Aaras, Horgen, & Ro, 2000; Blehm, Vishnu, Khattak, Mitra, & Yee, 2005), and are now considered significant contemporary occupational health problems (Silman & Newman, 1996). While the implementation of office ergonomic training is common within many workplaces, reports of benefits are mixed, with high rates of discomfort continuing among computer operators. The present research documented existing ergonomic training practices for call centre computer operators, and explored the outcomes of the training programs. Through an Action Research (AR) methodology, barriers to the application of office ergonomic knowledge as work skills were investigated. First, focus group interviews held in three metropolitan call centres explored current office ergonomic protocols and factors facilitating or inhibiting/preventing training praxis. Results showed that training consisted of written and classroom didactic presentations delivered within the staff induction program. Participants indicated that the information was ‘lost’ among the wealth of other information delivered to trainees starting employment. All call centres reported the provision of an office ergonomic checklist, which assisted team leaders and computer operators to review the adjustment and placement of tools and equipment at workstations. However, this review occurred only after the identification of equipment issues or reports of MSD, indicating that checklists were used as diagnostic tools rather than as training tools to help prevent the occurrence of discomfort. These results were then compared to the ‘best possible’ training content and delivery strategies described within the ergonomic and training literature. A new skill-based program was then designed and trialled across two call centres. The use of an AR framework placed case studies in sequence, each one developed through the reflection on the outcomes of the previous studies, the accumulated findings from all the studies, and an examination of the literature. Four case studies using a non-randomised quasi-experimental design were completed to investigate factors that may facilitate or inhibit/prevent the application of office ergonomic training as work practices. The aim of this research was to explore the effect that different office ergonomic training delivery methods (rather than content) had on reported levels of musculoskeletal discomfort among computer operators. Study participants were call centre operators working more than 30 hours per week within two large metropolitan call centres. Office ergonomic assessment tools and Participative Ergonomics (PE) methods identified ergonomic issues at computer workstations. AR and PE addressed those issues though the action, critical reflection, refinement and re-trial phases. Data were gathered via self-report physical discomfort questionnaires, office ergonomic assessment tools, feedback from stakeholders, and the analysis of both photographs and video records of working operators. The Mann-Whitney U test was used to identify any association between the delivery of interventions and changes in the reported levels of musculoskeletal discomfort. Logistic regression was used to explore a possible association between independent variables, such as height or handedness, and levels of musculoskeletal discomfort experienced by computer operators. Results from post skill-based intervention trials showed benefits for the company, the trainer, and participating operators. The short 10 to 15 minute in situ training minimised lost work time and avoided disruptions to call centre rosters within the company. For the trainer, delivering training in situ enabled the identification and possible resolution of poor work postures or work patterns. In addition, this stage made it possible to capture unresolved ergonomic issues, including the need for additional equipment (e.g., wrist rests), the use of equipment not covered within the office ergonomic training (e.g., notebooks) or the concerns of operators (e.g., why operators are more prone to headaches at a certain workstation).
A new approach to training computer operators is proposed, which suggests a transfer of training knowledge into work skills and competencies. Ergonomic training is a useful tool for the management and possible prevention of MSD issues. However, office ergonomic instruction, in and of itself, is ineffective. There is a need to both increase knowledge and create praxis, measured by the degree to which trainees effectively apply knowledge, skills, and attitudes gained in a training context to the workplace. Programs must contain multifactorial knowledge, provide the operator with MSD management strategies for use at work and outside of work, and provide the support necessary to apply that knowledge as work skills. In addition, the present research suggests the possible benefits of developing computer use competencies as a new tier of training that occurs after PE interventions for the ongoing development of the computer operator’s personal office ergonomic practices and computer use skills. As this research represents a ‘first step’ in the development of work competencies for computer operators, it had a number of limitations, including the lack of longitudinal data and the limitation of the application of training recommendations to the training delivery stage. Further research is required to replicate these findings, and further develop and evaluate computer use competencies within the workplace.