Physical workload - Yleistä


General information on topic

The workload should be appropriate to the person’s health and physical ability. 

Excessive physical strain may cause musculoskeletal disorders. Preventing the symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders helps employees cope at work and improves their quality of life but it is also beneficial for business activities. The strain caused by work should be appropriate to the person’s health and physical ability. 

Most musculoskeletal disorders caused by work develop over time and do not typically have one single cause. Risk factors may be physical, biomechanical or psychosocial and affect the strain caused by work in conjunction with the individual’s family history and lifestyle.

Occupational health care provides employers with support in identifying causes of physical strain, reducing it and evaluating health risks. Occupational health care experts have the expertise to assess which activities cause people strain and which are healthy. It is also worth making use of the occupational health care provider’s expertise in designing work spaces in the early stages of projects. 

Physical workload - Työntekijälle


Instructions for employee

As an employee, you have the ability to affect the extent to which the physical strain of your work causes health risks and ensure that you are able to cope better and longer at work. The Occupational Safety and Health Act also makes you responsible for managing your own workload.

Let your employer know about any issues

If you notice that certain tasks cause strain to you body at work and that, for example, your back, shoulders or arms become sore, don’t hesitate to raise the matter with your supervisor or manager, as well as your occupational safety and health representative. Also let them know if you have any ideas about how to make a task less strenuous or what kinds of tools could help. You can also raise these kinds of issues in connection with your employer’s risk assessment or their occupational health care provider’s workplace survey.

You have the right to know what action your employer intends to take on the basis of your reports. You also have the right to contact occupational health care and request an assessment of your workload.

If, after your request, your employer does not take action to reduce the strain caused by your work and the occupational health care provider also fails to provide help, you can call the occupational safety and health authorities’ telephone service at 0295 106 620 or email the Regional State Administrative Agency’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health that has responsibility for the area your workplace is located in. Contact information can be found here. 

Follow the instructions you are given

You have the right to receive instruction on how to avoid harmful physical strain and, for example, how to perform your work in safe working positions. You are obliged to take part in training and to follow the instructions given by your employer. 

Always use machinery, tools and assistive devices as instructed. Do your part to maintain a tidy and clean environment to allow for the use of assistive devices. Please use any personal protective equipment required by your task, such as kneepads when kneeling. 

Your employer has the responsibility to ensure that employees follow the given instructions and to intervene in any negligence. 

A healthy lifestyle is also beneficial

In addition to work-related measures, a healthy lifestyle also protects you from the effects of harmful physical strain. By maintaining your own health and ensuring you take the time to recover between shifts and during vacations, you improve your well-being at work. 

Physical workload - Työnantajalle


Instructions for employer

Most work-based musculoskeletal disorders develop over time. Musculoskeletal disorders do not typically have one single cause; instead, they are caused by multiple factors that increase the risk of developing a disorder. Similarly, there is no single remedy for musculoskeletal disorders, and rarer and more serious problems may require a specialist’s opinion. Many remedies, however, are simple and affordable, such as the use of handcarts to move loads.

It is the employer’s responsibility to eliminate or reduce the harmful strain caused by physical work and to ensure that employees’ health does not deteriorate at the workplace. Once an assessment of factors that cause strain has been completed, existing risks and hazards are addressed in order of importance. While measures focus primarily on prevention, measures to reduce the seriousness of any effects are also taken. It is important to ensure that all employees receive appropriate information, instruction and training regarding health and safety at the workplace and that they know how to avoid specific hazards and risks.

It is the employer’s responsibility to

  • Recognize risks and hazards that may lead to strain. These include, for example, heavy manual lifting, repetitive tasks and static working positions. Environmental factors present in the work space, such as poor lighting, cramped spaces, heat, cold, draft and vibration, may also contribute to increasing strain.
  • Evaluate the health effects of factors contributing to strain and, wherever possible, eliminate them or reduce the harm or hazard caused by them.
  • Monitor the effects of the measures taken on the health and coping of employees.

Examples of measures:

  • The planning of work, design of work stations and selection of tools to reduce physical strain and improve the efficiency of work.
  • The development of working methods and tools to support ergonomic working. 
  • The planning of work in such a way that employees do not work in poor positions for long periods or repeatedly by, for example, setting up breaks or cycling employees between different tasks.
  • Instructing employees on safe and healthy working methods and monitoring adherence to the instructions.
  • The acquisition of required assistive devices to lighten the strain caused by the work and the instruction of employees in their use.
  • Including employees and their representatives in discussions regarding possible problems and solutions.
  • Improving the organisation of the work and the psychosocial environment of the workplace and promoting musculoskeletal health.

Any preventative measures also need to take into account any technical changes to devices, the digitisation of the work process and changes in the organisation of work.

Physical workload - Lainsäädäntö



Provisions on physical workload and ergonomics:

Occupational Safety and Health Act (738/2002)

  • Section 8 – Employers’ general duty to exercise care 
  • Section 10 – Analysis and assessment of the risks at work 
  • Section 12 – Design of the working environment
  • Section 13 – Work design
  • Section 14 – Instruction and guidance to be provided for employees 
  • Section 24 – Ergonomics of the workstation, work postures and work motions
  • Section 25 – Avoiding and reducing workloads
  • Section 26 – Work with display screen equipment
  • Section 31 – Work pauses 

Government Decision on manual lifting and carrying at work (1409/1993, in Finnish)

Government Decision on work with display screen equipment (1405/1993, in Finnish)

Government Decree on the Safe Use and Inspection of Work Equipment (403/2008)

  • Section 2 – Choosing work equipment, and its placement

Physical workload - Oikeuden päätökset


Court decisions and precedents

The Supreme Court of Finland found in a case in 2010 (KKO:2010:70, in Finnish) that the fact that a shoe factory worker had developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists was most likely to be primarily due to workload.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 (KKO:2014:64, in Finnish) that the fact that a pneumatic drill operator had developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists was most likely to be primarily due to workload.

Physical workload - Esimerkkitapaukset


Examples and good practices

Ergonomic workstation design in collaboration with employees

A company was assembling a new reception desk in connection with office renovations. The company had a total of eight employees working in reception, three at a time. The length of the employees’ shifts varied between four and eight hours. The employees were asked to contribute to the design of the new reception desk. They felt that it was important to be able to work both sitting down and standing up.

The new reception desk adapts to the preferences of individual employees. One employee can sit on a normal office chair and another on a saddle chair, while the third employee can work standing up. This is possible thanks to purpose-built furniture that can be electronically adjusted to fit different kinds of users. Each employee can also adjust his or her own working position during their shift as they wish. The employees are happier, and there have been fewer neck and shoulder problems and sick days.

Ergonomian tietopankki (in Finnish)
Database of best practices in ergonomics and examples of ergonomic solutions for different sectors of the economy. Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Causes of MSDs (in Finnish)
Risk factors contributing to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include factors relating to work, hobbies, lifestyle or genetics that alone or together with other factors can increase the risk of MSDs. Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Physical workload - Muualla verkossa