Health & Safety

The ART of Assessing Repetitive Tasks

The HSE’s ART (Assessment of Repetitive Tasks of the upper limb) and MAC (Manual Handling Assessment Charts) are examples of ergonomic assessment tools, which form the basis of Diploma Unit B exam questions. The result is usually a cohort of panicked exam candidates!

These tools look complicated at first sight, but like anything we do, the best way to learn what they are all about is to use them. Many of the tools are similar in approach, but this blog concentrates on the ART tool.


The ART tool

The purpose of the ART tool is to:

  • Help risk assess repetitive tasks involving the upper limbs (arms and hands); and
  • Assess some of the common risk factors in repetitive work that contribute to the development of Upper Limb Disorders (ULD’s).

The ART tool takes a step-by-step approach:

  • Stage A: Frequency and repetition of movements;
  • Stage B: Force;
  • Stage C: Awkward postures;
  • Stage D: Additional factors.

While all ergonomic factors are of concern, frequency, force and posture are the most significant issues when determining the risk of upper limb disorders.

I find the best way to approach the assessment is to go and watch an operation first, observe the postures and understand the task; then watch it again whilst completing the assessment. I also video the task, so I can watch it again if I have any queries (it also forms a record which I can keep).

When using the tool the best way to start is to read the guidance one stage at a time and then fill in the score sheet for that part. The guidance is straight forward, but the score sheet needs a little more understanding e.g.:

Frequency of arm movements

    Left arm Right arm
Arm movements are Infrequent e.g. some intermittent movement 0 0
Frequent e.g. regular movement with some pauses 3 3
Very frequent e.g. almost continuous movement 6 6
  • G0 (Green= low risk);
  • A3 (Amber = medium risk); and
  • R6 (Red = high risk).

The outcome is recorded on the flow chart on page 18 for each stage e.g. stage A1: Arm movements

Repeat the process for each stage A-D and then transcribe the scores into the boxes at the base of page 18 and calculate the score for each arm.

To interpret the exposure score follow the table on page 16:

Exposure score Proposed exposure level
0-11 Low Consider individual circumstances
12-21 Medium Further investigation required
22 + High Further investigation required urgently

There is no guidance for what action to take, you will need to look at the guidance in the HSE publication: Upper Limb Disorders in the Workplace (HSG60) for this.

Advantages of the ART tool are:

  • The diagrams are a great help to understand poor ergonomic postures;
  • It provides a visual record without the need to write extensive reports;
  • The tool focuses on the highest risk issues of force, posture and frequency;
  • Each stage is scored individually, allowing high risk postures, forces, etc. to be highlighted so those specific risk issues can be addressed; and
  • The tool is objective, giving detailed comparisons which means whoever completes the assessment should be able to reach a similar score.

Disadvantages of the ART tool are:

  • The methodology looks complicated at first sight and can be off putting;
  • An overview is needed to understand what it aims to do;
  • People new to the tool are apprehensive about getting it wrong;
  • The overall score might give a ‘low’ risk result, where there is at least one high risk element which could be addressed to reduce the specific risk; and
  • There is no guidance in this document about how to reduce risks.

The HSE website has a free video of a task involving the packaging of gingerbread you could use to test this out. It then has a worked example of the ART tool. However, if you watch this video, do have a go at the form yourself before you look at the HSE example. This way you will be able to map your attempt with the HSE’s and you will learn more from the exercise.

  1. The ART tool is not suitable for DSE as it does not cover the risk assessment schedule outlined in the Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992, however, it would be suitable for a repetitive office activity such as folding a high number of letters and putting them in envelopes.

The NEBOSH Diploma syllabus Unit B9: Musculoskeletal Risks and Controls, requires knowledge of 5 ergonomic assessment tools and 2 sets of legal guidance:

Ergonomic assessment tools on the existing syllabus
Tool Application
HSE Manual Handling Assessment Tool (MAC) Manual handling
NIOSH Manual Material Handling (MMH) Checklist Manual handling
HSE Assessment tool for repetitive tasks of the upper limbs (ART) Upper limb disorders
Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA) Upper limb disorders
Additional ergonomic assessment tools on the new syllabus
Tool Application
HSE Variable Manual Handling Assessment chart (V-MAC) Manual handling
Appendices 3 and 4 to the HSE’s manual handling guidance (L23) Manual handling
Appendix 5 (VDU checklist) from HSE guidance (L26) DSE

All of the assessment tools and guidance are available free of charge on the HSE website or by doing an on line search.

Do have a go – it will give you confidence to carry out assessments and in the exam.

Good luck!

Sara Lumley

HSE ART Tool link –