Background: Manual handling operations (MHO) are tasks performed by hand that require a high frequency of repetitive and forceful movements of the hand and forearm. MHO are currently performed in a large number of workplaces in skilled and unskilled professions in the production and service sectors. MHO are considered a work-related health risk factor. The relationship between MHO and the occurrence of disorders of the upper extremities has already been established. MHO can cause diseases such as tenosynovitis of the forearm and carpal tunnel syndrome. This study aims to assess the current prevalence of exposure to MHO in the German workforce and to evaluate the relationship between MHO and the occurrence of disorders in the hands and arms.
Methods: The analysis was based on the German 2018 BIBB/BAuA Employment Survey . We included subjects aged between 15 and 66 who work at least 35 hours per week. The self-reported frequency of MHO (never; rarely; sometimes; often) was considered the exposure of interest and was stratified by gender and occupation. Prevalence ratios were used to report the relationship between MHO and self-reported pain in the hands and arms (robust log-linear Poisson regression). Adjustments were made for age, gender, actual weekly working hours, psychosocial workload, and other physical workloads.
Results: The analysis included 14,299 employees. Nearly 33% of the male and 31% of the female subjects reported that they often perform MHO. These workloads were often reported by respondents who work in the agricultural sector (men: 70%; women: 79%), in unskilled (men: 59%; women: 67%) and skilled manual occupations (men: 73%; women: 67%). A higher frequency of self-reported MHO was clearly associated with a higher prevalence of hand complaints (PR 2.26 CI: 2.00 - 2.55) as well as arm pain (PR 1.73 CI: 1.55 – 1.92).
Conclusion: MHO are still frequent in many occupations. The association between self-reported frequencies of MHO and pain in the hands and arms shown here demonstrates the importance of MHO in the current German workforce and the necessity to further develop prevention strategies.