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Job rotation is defined as a systematic procedure that relocates workers between two or more jobs in a workplace. One of the perceived benefits of job rotation is that it will decrease workplace musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) by reducing the operator’s exposure to high forces, awkward postures, and high frequencies. Today, many safety professionals rely on job rotation as the primary method to reduce MSDs in the workplace.

However, current research has shown that if job rotation is done correctly it has an insignificant impact on workplace MSD reduction. More importantly, if job rotation is not done correctly it can increase workplace MSDs. A study by Jay Kapellusch found that job rotation can increase the likelihood of MSD occurrence by between 25% and 70%.

Here’s why:

  • It can increase the number of operators exposed to the high-risk jobs. For example, if a rotation schedule relocates an employee stationed at a low- or moderate-risk job to a high-risk job, their risk of developing an MSD has now increased.
  • Tasks within a department may exhibit similar MSD risk factors. For example, if one job in the job rotation cycle results in high-risk on the low back, and that operator rotates to another job that is high-risk on the low back, there is no period of rest for that body segment. In many cases, tasks in a department or on an assembly line exhibit a similar workload pattern. If similar risk factors are present on the same body segments, the operator is not experiencing time for muscular recovery.

Job rotation is considered an administrative approach to MSD risk reduction. However, current research has shown that even when done right it does not have a significant impact on MSD reduction. Therefore, the use of job rotation to reduce the risk of MSDs should be discouraged or at least limited to a temporary solution, until engineering controls can be integrated.

For more information, watch the Bottom Line video “How Effective is Job Rotation on Preventing MSDs?”