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Hazards due to physical workload

Man with a white smock at vacuum lifter © Uwe Völkner, FOX photo agency

The term "physical strain" (physical load) includes, without judgement, any form of physical strain at work and in leisure time. This chapter deals with physical or motor and cardio-pulmonary demands at work that primarily cause strain on the musculoskeletal system, as well as the cardiovascular system. In the short and long term, these demands can lead to overstrain and thus pose a risk to health.

The musculoskeletal system comprises the entire human skeleton, all bone and joint structures as well as the musculature and the associated tendons, tendon attachments, fasciae including the blood vessels and nerve tracts that supply them. It makes it possible to assume and maintain different postures, to move, maintain the balance of the body, interact with the environment, e.g. by manipulating and acting with the hands and arms, and to apply and maintain physical strength. All this requires intact and adaptable sensitive, sensory and central nervous abilities and sufficient performance of both the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems.

Physical stress is an everyday occurrence. It is part of the human existence and necessary to maintain health. The musculoskeletal system and the cardiovascular system must be loadedand stressed, as all physical conditions require training to maintain or improve or promote them.

Physical workload occurs when motor demands or static postural demands are actively performed by the employee, such as lifting loads, repetitive manual work or working in awkward body postures. The level of strain results from many different factors, e.g. load weight, strength required to move fittings or transport devices or to hold and operate tools safely, the gripping conditions or the duration and time distribution of the demands during the working day.

The motor requirements are actively fulfilled by the employee using his or her physically available, acquired and learned skills. The resulting demands can vary greatly from person to person. Strength, endurance, dexterity, speed and body height can vary greatly. Movement sequences may be mastered to varying degrees. Individual aspects such as working technique, i.e. the way a task is performed, play a role. In addition, there are age- and gender-specific as well as developmental physiological aspects (e.g. incomplete skeletal growth in adolescents and young adults).

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