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Last updated: 21.06.2023

Good ergonomics are required by law

The purpose of ergonomics is to ensure that workers can do their work without exposing themselves to unhealthy loads or hazards.

The word “ergonomics” was coined from the Greek ergon for “work” and nomos for “law” or “custom”. 

Ergonomics is the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment: the developing of workstations, tools, furniture, and working methods to suit people’s abilities, functions, and characteristics.  

In Finland, the Occupational Safety and Health Act obligates employers to choose, dimension, and position the tools and structures of workstations ergonomically. They must account for the type of work and the worker’s abilities. Workstations and tools include machinery, devices, equipment, tools, furniture, supplies, and accessories. 

The purpose of ergonomics is to eliminate workloads that are dangerous or pose a health hazard. The musculoskeletal system may suffer excessive stress due to repetitive or heavy lifting, asymmetrical working motions, or awkward postures and movements. 

Stricter regulations protect young people 

Young people (under 18) may not work in positions that stress the body excessively. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has issued a list of examples of light work suitable for young people (in Finnish). 

Manual lifting 

Many accidents happen when goods and other items are lifted and moved manually, including sprained backs, cuts, pinched hands and legs, and damage to feet from falling loads. 

In the service sector, loads must be lifted and moved in a variety of situations. Grocery workers may need to bend down or reach high to shelve items. Cleaners and property maintenance workers may need to move work equipment, devices, and rubbish bags, and guards sometimes have to carry people. 

The heavy physical strain of lifting work, especially the need for muscular strength, calls for voluntary exercise and self-care from the workers. 

Employers are responsible for the safety of lifting at work 

The general principles and operating models for preventing and reducing hazards related to lifting work are laid down in law, but weight limits are not. Research-based recommendations emphasise that every instance of lifting should be evaluated as a whole – the weight of the load is only one of the factors. 

For any jobs that require the manual lifting and moving of loads, and where no mechanical aids can be used instead, for example, the employer must reduce the risks as follows: 

  • provide workers with tools for lifting and moving loads that meet the specific requirements of the loads, working environment, physical labour, and the workers’ duties as a whole 
  • organise workstations to maximise the safety of lifting and moving loads by ensuring sufficient free space and avoiding positions that require twisting motions 
  • ensure sufficient training and guidance for workers who handle loads and issue all necessary information regarding safe lifting practices. 

Lifting accessories are available for all kinds of work. The purchasing of lifting accessories must be made in cooperation with the workers who will be using them. The workers must be ordered to use the lifting accessories provided. 

Government Decree on Manual Lifting and Moving at Work (1409/1993, in Finnish).

Repetitive work 

Work where the same or similar movements of the fingers, hands, or arms repeat constantly is considered repetitive work. In the service sector, the work of cashiers, shelf stackers, cleaners, and waiters is often repetitive. This type of work may cause repetitive stress, especially if the worker must use force or work in awkward positions. 

Display screen work 

Special design considerations are required for workstations that include display screen equipment: computers, laptops, terminals, etc. The position of the chair, work surface, and display must be easily adjustable. The workspace’s lighting must also be sufficient.  

If the worker’s regular glasses are unsuitable for display screens, the employer must provide the worker with glasses that are suitable for display screen work, according to section 26 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (pdf)

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