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Since the 1990s, the field of ergonomics has experienced a remarkable evolution in assessing musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) risk using simple, paper-based assessment tools and helping organizations reduce MSDs in the workplace. For example, the Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA) and Rapid Entire Body Assessment (REBA) have long been considered easy-to-use assessment tools. They’re simple and straightforward, and provide you with a nice, clean number for your risk level when you’re done.

However, they’re based on research from the 1980s (40+ years ago now) and were specifically designed for conducting assessments from manual observation, which means that they had to be over-simplified and don’t immediately give the clearest, most accurate result. So, why are so many EHS professionals still relying on these older tools?

The Dusty “Olds” of Ergonomics Assessments

The level of ergonomics knowledge in the 1980s, when REBA and RULA were developed, actually only represents 10% of today’s current knowledge with MSD risk assessment tools. While the two tools aim to simplify posture identification and categorization, their roots are in office ergonomics, focusing on task-based jobs, service and healthcare industries, rather than heavy manufacturing or chemical environments. This means that the assessment of industrial tasks (and forceful exertions) are over-simplified and under-measured. RULA and REBA were widely regarded as ”go-to” tools for identifying, quantifying, and prioritizing risks. Despite the incredible technology-related advancements that have occurred since their development, EHS professionals are still consistently using these old tools that have serious gaps.

Blind Spots of RULA and REBA

It’s important for EHS professionals to understand that there are several concerns with the repeatability and reliability of RULA and REBA, and each tool has nuances to note for maximum effectiveness. Peer-reviewed, cross-sectional research studies (observational studies that analyze data from a representative subset at a specific point in time) suggest RULA and REBA do not show strong correlations with lower limbs, back, shoulder or hands MSDs. The tools also may not accurately differentiate between postures, raising concerns about their ability to prioritize and quantify risks effectively. The importance of understanding these blind spots is emphasized for practitioners aiming to make informed decisions in their assessments. Although RULA and REBA remain prominent tools in ergonomics assessments, professionals need more than just easy tools, especially ones that don’t accurately assess and address MSD risk.

How to Fill in the Gaps Left by RULA and REBA

There have been 35+ years of new research since the development of RULA and REBA, and many new tools based on this modern research. There are also many new technologies that make it easier to capture biomechanical risk factors for the development of workplace MSDs, which are beyond the capabilities for manual observation. There’s a better way.

Innovations in ergonomics management systems like VelocityEHS Industrial Ergonomics provide incredible support and assistance to organizations. With interactive online training, AI-driven assessment tools, expert-led onsite implementation workshops and improvement events, and a powerful database to deploy, monitor and manage ergonomics processes across hundreds of locations, organizations can easily improve their health and wellness of their people.