Stressful Working Postures

Stressful working postures and lifting of heavy loads can effect your health. Here you can find a list of stressful working postures, their health risks and ways to prevent damage.


What are stressful working postures?

  • Back or neck bent forward. The strain becomes worse the more bent-over the position and the longer and more often you stand in a bent-over position.
  • Turning or twisting the back and neck. The strain becomes worse the more the back is twisted and the longer and more often you are in this position.
  • Bending backwards or neck tilted back, such as when working and looking at something above eye-height. This position stresses the muscles in the neck.
  • Lifting and straining the shoulders is tough on the muscles in the neck and shoulders.
  • Postures in which you work with the arms and hands held away from the body - both in front of and to the side of the body. This puts strain on the shoulder muscles and can lead to pressure on the nerves in the arms.
  • Twisting the forearm/wrist. The strain becomes worse:
    - if you have to use a lot of strength at the same time,
    - if the muscles in the forearm have to keep the arm fixed in the twisted position (also called static demand on the muscles),
    - the more often you have to work with the forearm in a twisted position,
    - the longer you work with the forearm twisted,
    - the more often you have to make this movement.
    - The strain can lead to inflammation of the tendons around the elbow joint.
  • Wrists bent backwards or using the wrist in extreme positions. The strain becomes worse:
    - if you have to use a lot of strength in the work
    - the more often and the longer you work in this position,
    - the more often you have to repeat the movement.
    - The strain can result in inflammation of the tendons in the wrist and pressure on the nerves.
  • Standing with the body weight unevenly balanced on the pelvis and legs. This increases the strain on the pelvic region and the leg that is taking the weight of the body.
  • Sitting with the weight of the body unevenly balanced. This puts uneven strain on the back.
  • Kneeling and crouching stress the knee joints and restrict circulation in the legs. The strain becomes worse:
    - the greater the weight and so the greater the pressure put on the joint,
    - the more often and the longer you remain in this position.
  • Working lying down in cramped spaces. The strain becomes worse:
    - the more strength you have to use,
    - the more often and the longer you remain in this position.


Stressful working postures aboard

  • Stressful working postures often occur while doing the following jobs:
  • Loading and discharging with cranes
  • Fixing lashings on ro-ro decks
  • Repair and maintenance work, particularly in the engine room
  • Using heavy lifting gear
  • Taking in stores
  • Restocking stores

Working in the galley

Particularly when it is the same person who carries out the same tasks often and over a long period:

  • Serving/waiting  
  • Cleaning
  • Making up bunks
  • Working at tills
  • Counter sales
  • Working at computer terminals - in the control room, on the bridge and doing administrative work.

Health risks

Be aware of:

  • Soreness, pains, stiffness and fatigue in muscles and joints.
  • Tingling in the fingers and changes in sensitivity making fingers, feet and legs feel different.
  • Pains, soreness and swelling due to irritation (inflammation) around the tendons.
  • Damage such as tennis elbow and inflammation of the tendons. This can last  several weeks and may end up as a chronic condition. These conditions may occur again and again if you continue to put strain on the body.

Normally, the body sends warning signals before more long-term, chronic damage occurs. So be aware of pain, soreness, tense muscles and stiff joints. These symptoms often disappear if you stop stressing the body. On the other hand, ignoring the body's warning signals means a real risk of problems developing in the long term.


  • Plan work so that the same muscles are not constantly put under strain. The most important factor is to be able to change position when the body reacts to the strain with soreness or pain.
  • Design workplaces to avoid tough working positions.
  • When working on big jobs with tough working positions, organize routines so that there are enough crew to work in rotation or ensure there are enough breaks. The body can put up with a lot in varied positions but it will send out signals if it suffers stress that it wants to have removed or changed. It is important to take these signals seriously and to ensure individuals can vary their work if they become aware of signs of stress.

Senior Occupational Health Consultant

Anne L. Ries

+45 3311 1833

+45 2961 8860

I can help you with:

  • Safety Organization
  • Consultancy
  • Physical working environment
  • The program Health and Safety at Sea
  • Legislation at sea