Job rotation alone does not reduce the risks associated with hazardous manual handling

Guidance for employers and health and safety representatives (HSRs). It explains when job rotation is suitable for controlling hazardous manual handling and how it can reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Job rotation

Job rotation is a risk control measure which involves moving employees for set periods of time through a variety of work that requires different postures, movements and forces.

Job rotation requires the work to be sufficiently different to ensure that different muscle groups are used in different ways so that they have a chance to recover from fatigue. Job rotation can give muscles time to recover from fatigue.

Muscles can become fatigued when used:

  • repetitively or for a long time
  • to hold a position or posture
  • to perform movement
  • to apply force

When muscles are fatigued, there is an increased risk of developing a MSD.

When not to use job rotation

Ineffective job rotation may increase employee exposure to the risk of developing MSDs, particularly where employees are rotated through work that involves similar movements, postures and forces. For example, if repetitive reaching above shoulder height is an aspect of all the work done in a rotation, then the employee is exposed to the same risk factor, despite 'different' work being undertaken in the rotation. This defeats the main benefit of job rotation, which is to allow muscles time to recover from fatigue.

When working repetitively or for sustained periods below knee height, work should not be performed for longer than 30 minutes at a time and for no more than 2 hours over the whole shift. Other work in the rotation should not be below knee height to reduce the risk of developing a MSD.

Do not use job rotation to avoid making physical changes in the workplace. Eliminating hazards and risks is the most effective control.

Job rotation alone is not an effective risk control measure

Employers may not be meeting legal obligations when job rotation is the only risk control measure for work involving hazardous manual handling.

Job rotation does not eliminate the risk of MSDs from manual handling. It can reduce exposure time to a particular risk factor, but it does not address the source of the risk and is often used ineffectively.

Trying to determine a 'safe' exposure time will never be as effective as eliminating or reducing the risk by making other changes in your workplace such as altering the workplace design and environmental conditions.

Effective control measures

Use effective control measures, including:

  • altering the work to eliminate double handling
  • changing the objects used in the work
  • the use of mechanical aids

Job rotation is only suitable to reduce exposure to work involving repetitive or sustained postures or movements or repetitive or sustained exertion of force. It is not suitable for all types of work, especially those involving high force.

While job rotation may reduce an employee’s exposure to a MSD, it does not reduce the high force that may lead to immediate risk of MSD.

If more employees are rotated through work involving high force, it will result in exposing more employees to that immediate risk of developing an MSD.

Help injured employees return to work by reducing the work demands involved in a job rotation and the time spent at each job.

Job rotation can be useful

Properly designed job rotation is useful:

  • as a temporary action while implementing other risk control measures
  • when trialling other control measures
  • if the work in the rotation involves the use of different muscles so they have a chance to recover from fatigue
  • in addition to other control measures used to control repetitive or sustained postures, movements or forces

Planning for job rotation

Employees often have preferred work or they may have done the same work for a long time. This can make employees feel that a proposed rotation will be difficult or they may not want to do some work or move to another location to do different work.

Involving employees in the development of a job rotation system, especially in understanding the reasons behind a proposed job rotation, helps encourage a positive approach.

Consultation

Employers have a duty to consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with employees and HSRs when identifying hazards (including hazardous manual handling) or identifying risks (including MSDs) in the workplace. They must also be consulted in the design of a job rotation.

Employees will have valuable information about the demands of forces, actions or movements involved in one job compared to another.

Consulting with employees is likely to result in better risk control measures because it gives them the opportunity to contribute ideas and is likely to improve uptake of risk control measures when they are implemented.

It's important for the employer and employee to understand why job rotation is being considered as a way of reducing the risk of a MSD.

Some employees may have medical restrictions or may have returned to work following an injury and be performing alternative or modified duties. You should ensure the employees included in the rotation are able to perform the work. This will also require discussion with your return to work coordinator.

Work involved in the job rotation has to be different

Employers need to:

  1. examine the work being considered in the rotation
  2. control any risks found
  3. determine whether the work is varied enough to ensure that different muscle groups are used in different ways so that have a change to recover from fatigue

When employees are away

If 4 people rotate through 4 different types of work every 2 hours and 1 person is away, the 3 remaining people may need to spend longer on each type of work.

This may expose them to an increased risk of MSD. To prevent this, provide training to other employees on the work involved in the rotation and assign one of them to take the place of the absent employee to ensure the risk control measure aspect of the job rotation remains in place.

Shift length and overtime

If your workplace has longer hours of work, extra shifts or overtime, the exposure to the risk of MSDs may increase. You might have to consider how you can add other types of work to a rotation if the total period of work is longer than 8 hours.

Rate of work

Work involving repetitive or sustained postures, movements or forces performed less than twice a minute or for less than 30 seconds at a time are considered to be acceptable, providing the other work in the rotation involves different forces, postures or movements and also do not involve higher repetition or duration of actions. This will allow muscles, ligaments and joints to recover from the demands of the previous job in the rotation.

Monitoring

You will need to closely monitor how your job rotation system is working and make adjustments as necessary. Talk to the employees involved and encourage them to make suggestions.

Be prepared to make changes if the work you have included in the rotation or the speed of work still result in fatigue or reports of pain and discomfort.

Logging job rotation can help ensure rotations are being done properly and can also assist with quality assurance issues.

Piece work or productivity bonuses

Piece work and productivity bonuses can be an obstacle to the acceptance of job rotation. If job rotation is required as a way to reduce exposure to risk in your workplace, payment incentive schemes will need to be addressed and may need some alteration.

Further information