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Work Observation

Learn about what to monitor, who to monitor, when to monitor and what data to collect during work observation.

Effective Risk Assessment (and the choice and implementation of controls) is based upon a good understanding of the work processes. This is used to set up procedures for determining what to monitor, who to monitor, when to monitor and what data to collect that is appropriate for the methods chosen.

When performing screening for MSD hazards, a preliminary risk assessment or a more comprehensive risk assessment, the Risk Assessment Team should talk first to workers, supervisors, managers and technical employees. This gives a necessary understanding of the work process and tasks.

Observing work tasks should be guided by: who, what, when, where and how.



Factors to Consider


Who to observe? The focus should be on hazards created by the work processes rather than on individual behaviours. Observe multiple people where possible. Perhaps observe tall and short persons at a minimum.

An individual focus is relevant for incident investigation or Return to Work


What task or tasks to observe? Two main options:

  1. For jobs that consist of a single or small number of tasks focusing only on them may identify the key hazards. For short cycle, repetitive work, the focus would be on the “work cycle”.
  2. If workers perform multiple task, or there is no clear work cycle. or the work cycle is long – hours rather than minutes - a step of listing all tasks and performing a screening step to identify tasks that may be most problematic or have MSD hazards is needed. Video recordings/risk assessment of only these selected tasks could then be performed.


If tasks vary by day, week, product or service, a step of listing all tasks then performing a screening step to identify tasks/products/processes that may be most problematic is necessary. Observation or video recordings and risk assessment of only these selected tasks could then be performed, perhaps requiring multiple viewings.


This may be dictated largely by the “when”, but some situations have particular challenges. For example, during toileting in a health care environment. 


“How” is mainly driven by the input requirements of the risk assessment methods chosen.

  • For the screening step, unaided observation and discussion is typically used.
  • For some observational assessment methods, unaided observations may be sufficient. For other methods, video recordings may be used to better categorize body postures.
  • For short cycle repetitive jobs, video recording of multiple cycles can be used
    • for slowing down fast movements of the upper limb  
    • for timing
    • for simply communicating information about the job for members of the risk assessment team and others who did not observe the work. 
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