Publication Details

F. Weigall, K. Simpson, A. F. Bell & L. Kemp 2005, An assessment of the repetitive manual tasks of cleaners, WorkCover NSW, Sydney.


WorkCover NSW established a Steering Committee to investigate musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the cleaning industry following advice arising from the Workplace Safety Summtt 2002. In September 2004, Health & Safety Matters Pty Ltd was appointed to undertake research into this area, with a focus on conducting an assessment of the upper limbs demands of repetttive cleaning ta~ks, and to provide advice on reducing the risk of MSDs. The objectives of the project were to: 1. explore the impact of upper limb musculoskeletal disorder injuries amongst cleaners; 2. describe the physical and work organisational demands of the upper limb work in cleaning; 3. develop an evidence-based guide to be used in conjunction with risk assessment checklists; and 4. develop with industry, case study examples of risk assessment to address hazards commonly faced by general cleaning. The literature shows there is strong evidence to support the link between work related upper limb MSDs and physical risk factors such as force, posture, repetttion, vibration or a combination of these factors; work organisation factors; and individual factors such as age and gender. Therefore, this study investigated all of these areas using a number of quantitative and qualitative data collection methods. Interviews were conducted with 66 cleaners at 23 worksites, and these explored work organisation and individual factors. Observation of the equipment, work environment and work tasks were conducted to gather information on current practices. Video footage was taken of 47 cleaners performing common cleaning tasks identified by the Steering Committee, and these videos were analysed using the Manual Tasks Risk Assessment Tool (ManTRA) and Rapid Upper Limb Assessment Tool (RULA) to determine the level of risk for upper limb MSD associated with these tasks. Findings from this study are consistent with other research into cleaning work overseas and in Australia that has confirmed that the physical demands, work organisation factors and individual characteristics of workers present a number of risk factors known to contribute to injury and disease, including specific risks for the development of upper limb MSDs. The physical risk analysis identified that each of the most commonly performed cleaning tasks were assessed as "requiring changes", with wet-mopping requiring the most immediate action. The upper limb was assessed as being at particular injury risk due to the combination of repetition with the other risk factors. The interviews with workers in this study highlighted the risks due to work rates, lack of control over the amount of work, lack of ability to obtain help (if required), as well as the lack of support from supervisors. Also of concern was the reported lack of consultation (eg regarding equipment selection and work rate setting) in many businesses, together with their low levels of responsiveness to problems or maintenance.