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Boring work is a pain

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Employers might save their workers from work related pain and themselves from lost productivity if they tried to alleviate monotony in the job, according to a prospective cohort study. Load bearing tasks are known predictors of new pain—but are often unavoidable—whereas tackling boring or psychosocial areas of a job might give more scope for avoiding work related pain, its authors suggest.

Boring work comprising half or more of a job significantly predicted new onset shoulder pain (odds ratio 1.7) among more than 800 new employees from 12 occupational groups. So did heavy manual tasks such as lifting weights, pushing or pulling heavy weights, and working with hands above shoulder height, with odds ratios of 1.6–1.9. Pain occurred in the same proportion (around 15%) at 12 and 24 months’ follow up but varied among occupational groups.

The 803 pain free subjects (two thirds of them men) were followed up by questionnaire; 638 (79%) responded at 12 months and 476 (88%) at 24 months. All were new to the jobs market and were chosen from recruits to newly opened businesses; service or established businesses recruiting new employees, like police and fire services; and final year students of vocational courses like dentistry and nursing.

Studies have disagreed whether organisational or social facets of work are linked to new onset shoulder pain but almost all have been cross sectional. Enrolling new recruits in their first ever job avoided the healthy worker effect and meant that new onset pain really was new.