Job rotation – An effective control method?

Matt Culloty, Ergonomist based in the Chris Mee Group Cork HQ, reflects on the use of job rotation as a control measure in the avoidance of musculoskeletal injury in the workplace.

Generally, Job Rotation can be defined by rotating workers to tasks with varying levels of exposure and physical demands. It is often implemented as an administrative control to minimise the occupational exposure from common physical risk factors associated with musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s) on a particular worker or group of workers. This is the conventional approach to reducing musculoskeletal injury – reduce the ‘dose’ to an individual and you reduce the risk.

This approach may provide a positive outcome by reducing boredom in undertaking monotonous simple repetitive tasks, creating a more flexible workforce to move to different workstations and allowing more opportunity for workers to upskill and be trained in other tasks. In contrast however there could also be increased risk if this type of practice is implemented without forethought and careful consideration of potential consequences.

Recent studies have highlighted that there is inconsistent to inconclusive evidence for recommending job rotation as a strategy for preventing musculoskeletal injuries.  Job rotation as a main strategy does not appear to reduce or redistribute the injury risk when rotating between high-risk tasks to low risk tasks but could lead to a trade-off of increasing the risk of low-risk jobs for the sake of high-risk jobs. This can have negative effects over the long term by increasing musculoskeletal injury risk over the broader working group. 

Job rotation can have more desired effects when the tasks are already low risk allowing positive variations in the working environment however the caveat of individual circumstances must be applied. This is to take account of what working muscle groups are activated, psychosocial factors of the workplace, sufficient muscle fatigue rest/recovery etc.

What should be kept in mind when looking at Job Rotation?

  • Job Rotation is not sufficient as an independent control measure and in some cases may result in an increase MSD risk to a larger group of workers. Hierarchy of controls should be reviewed and assessed to see more suitable longer-term options.
  • Identify what are the high-risk jobs – large physical exertion, high repetition, task that received the most complaints can be an indicator. The high-risk factors need to be designed out rather than opt for job rotation to reduce exposure levels.
  • Job rotation may offer temporary control to reduce exposure levels where immediate design change cannot be implemented to manage the risk but this should not been seen as an option to delay workstation improvements when high risks have been identified.
  • Employee engagement – the workforce has the expertise in their tasks, this can increase better psychosocial workplace factors and improved uptake of job adjustments.

How have you dealt with job rotation implementation, did this create positive or negative consequences in the work environment?

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Keir, P., Sanei, K., & Holmes, M. (2011). Task rotation effects on upper extremity and back muscle activity. Applied Ergonomics, 814-819.

Leider, P. C., Boschman, J. S., Frings-Dresen, M. H., & van der Molen, H. F. (2015). Effects of job rotation on musculoskeletal complaints and related work exposures: a systematic. Ergonomics, 18-32.

Mehdizadeh, A., Vinel, A., Hu, Q., Schall Jr, M. C., Gallagher, S., & Sesek, R. F. (2020). Job rotation and work-related musculoskeletal. Ergonomics.