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Functional capacity and work ability

The concepts of functional capacity and work ability are closely linked to physical strain.

The physical environment of the workplace must be designed in such a way that people feel comfortable in it. Ergonomics development projects should be included in the occupational safety and health action programme.


Physical functioning is supported by adjusting technology and functions to people, i.e. implementing ergonomic solutions in the workplace. Ergonomics is the study and development of the interaction between humans and operating systems.

Ergonomics examines work comprehensively from the physical, psychological, social and cognitive perspectives, and it is used to improve the safety, health and well-being of employees, as well as the undisturbed and efficient flow of work.

Expertise of occupational health care

As an expert of the human, occupational health care has the appropriate expertise to assess what causes strain and what is healthy for a person.  Based on workplace surveys and medical records, occupational health care also has practical experience of the kinds of environments, working methods or tools that can cause harmful strain.

The expertise of occupational health care should be utilised in the design of workspaces from the early stages of projects. From the outset, important decisions are made in terms of human activity.


It is important to take accessibility into account when designing workspaces. In an accessible workplace, workspaces can be adapted to the needs of different employees. Accessibility also enables people with partial work ability to work in accordance with their competence level and capabilities.

Design of workspaces and work processes

The physical strain of work can be affected by ensuring that the spaces and work processes are well designed and that the furniture and tools used are ergonomic and appropriate.  Strain can be reduced by adjusting the workstation and varying working methods. Tools and furniture must be adjustable to the needs of employees of different sizes.

When different work tasks are connected, it is important to design the workspaces and work arrangements in such a way that the different functions are located close to each other and the need to move objects around is kept to a minimum.

By developing the content of work, it is possible to influence repetitive, monotonous work motions. Diversification of work, for example, by means of job rotation, provides variation in the working day and a change in the strain caused by work.

Features of a good workstation

It is important to take breaks. It is particularly important in work that involves constant repetitive movements, lifting and carrying.  

The total workload can be managed by taking enough breaks and with physical movements that energise the body. Breaks and energising movements make working more efficient, promote recovery from work and prevent musculoskeletal problems.

Working positions and work motions

When it comes to working positions, extreme positions of joints and one-sided or monotonous strain should be avoided. Working in the same position for a long time can cause static, permanent muscle tension, which can lead to various symptoms and pain.

In addition to harmful positions, external conditions, such as draught and cold temperatures, also affect the amount of strain on the body.

Not all harmful working positions and work motions can be eliminated. The primary means is to reduce their repetition and duration in order to avoid causing excessive strain on the musculoskeletal system.

Where possible, standing work should be diversified with sedentary work and by making it possible for employees to sit during breaks. Different types of stand aids can be used to support employees who carry out standing work.

A rubber mat is recommended to be used at a standing workstation in order to reduce harmful strain on the back and lower limbs. The advantage of the standing position is a good reach and the ability to use strength more efficiently than while sitting.

Things to be considered in standing work:

  • Adjust the height of the desk so that you can work with your back straight, shoulders relaxed and forearms on the desk.
  • Monitor: keep the top of the screen at eye level and the monitor at such a length away that you can see the screen well.
  • A standing mat reduces pressure on the spine and lower limb joints during standing work.
  • Upper limb position: keep your upper arms close to the body, shoulders relaxed and forearms supported at a 90 degree angle.
  • Keep your stomach close to the edge of the desk.
  • As a rule, distribute your weight evenly on both legs. You can occasionally shift the weight from one side to the other.
  • Suitable shoes have a decent sole and a heel of a few centimetres.
  • Sit down occasionally, at least when you experience muscle sensations when your back gets tired, for example.

Sedentary work exerts an uneven and insufficient strain on the body, causing particular strain on the back, neck and cervical spine. Sedentary work should be diversified with tasks that involve standing and moving around.

Things to be considered in sedentary work:

  • Lighting: no reflections or glare from the window or lamps.
  • Monitor positioned at a suitable viewing distance, directly in front of you and below the horizontal plane of the eyes/gaze. Remember regular cleaning!
  • Mouse and keyboard on the same level close to each other, use both alternately.
  • Desk: forearms in a horizontal position, space for materials and height adjustment.
  • Work chair: backrest supports the lumbar region, correct adjustments, guidance on adjustments.
  • Rest your forearms on the desk or the armrests of the chair.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and neck straight.
  • Legroom: feet firmly on the floor or on a footrest, no electric cables in the way of the feet.

Remember to take breaks! Even good ergonomics does not prevent ailments from arising if you do not take enough breaks!

Risks posed by the handling of loads must be assessed as a whole. Weight is only one of the factors. Legislation does not define kilogram limits for the weight of the load that can be lifted by hand.

Things to be considered in manual lifting:

  • duration and frequency of lifting
  • weight, size, shape, handling and stability of the load
  • size of the working area, slipperiness and roughness of the working surface
  • height of the work platform, temperature, humidity, ventilation
  • ergonomics of working positions and work motions, use of the body
  • position of the load in relation to the body, correct lifting positions
  • availability of lifting accessories or other lifting aids
  • the employee’s personal characteristics, work experience, muscle strength.

Many work tasks involve manual lifting, moving loads and twisted working positions. These put a strain on the musculoskeletal system and may pose a risk to the employee’s work ability.

The employer’s task is to plan the work in such a way that working is safe and healthy. Occupational health care is an important partner in this regard.

Fixing the ergonomics of manual lifting

Lifting and moving loads manually in the course of work cannot always be completely avoided. The employer must take care of the design and planning of ergonomic workspaces and work processes and instruct employees in lifting ergonomics.