Operational leeway and the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders: what are the prospects?

Theory and methodology
By Fabien Coutarel, Agnès Aublet-Cuvelier, Sandrine Caroly, Nicole Vézina, Yves Roquelaure, Aude Cuny-Guerrier, Maxime Norval, Nathan Compan

The prevention of work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) is an important issue both in ergonomics and for ergonomists. In his 2019 article, Lémonie puts forward a vigorous critique of the various studies that draw upon the notion of operational leeway, of which the co-authors of this response were key actors.
First, this article responds to the author’s criticism of the notion of operational leeway. We begin by showing how a collective effort is underway to enrich and standardize the use of the term. We then develop arguments that refute the author’s cognitivist interpretation.
In a second step, we challenge the author’s proposals. We agree with the author that motor diversity is based on ergonomic knowledge. We then discuss motor variability; although it constitutes a promising research issue, several difficulties and questions prevent us from specifying how it could be useful for prevention, and interventions by ergonomists.
We then discuss the prospects for future research on operational leeway. Overall, we argue that it remains relevant to develop the concept, in order to account for the effective possibilities that a person constructs to cope with variability in the workplace. We situate these arguments in a relational ontology, where operational leeway constitutes the activity space, in which the dynamic, asymmetrical and conflictual relationship of the subject to his or her world is inscribed and constructed. We distinguish between operational leeway (singular) and operational leeways (plural). The latter constitute antecedent conditions for the activity: organizational, procedural, temporal, spatial, etc.
Finally, we discuss the role of scientific investigations into the effectiveness of ergonomic interventions.

  • ergonomics
  • intervention
  • variability
  • assessment
  • model
  • operational leeway
Go to the article on Cairn-int.info