Healthcare Ergonomics – Caring Enough to Prevent Injury to Those Who Care for Us

Reducing the Risk of Injury to Healthcare Workers

Healthcare workers are dedicated providers of care for people in need around the globe. Unfortunately, in the course of their jobs, they are exposed to a variety of risks and hazards ranging from hazardous materials to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare worker injuries are a serious issue to be addressed.

…employees in nursing and personal care facilities suffer over 200,000 work-related injuries and illnesses a year. Many of these are serious injuries. More than half require time away from work. Worker’s compensation costs for the industry now amount to nearly $1 billion per year. Workers in nursing homes are 2x as likely as other workers to be injured on the job.

United States Department of Labor – Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)

Given their commitment to the well-being of their patients, it’s all that more important that they are provided with protection from injuries. While not all injuries are unavoidable, there are methods of reducing risk of injury to these valuable healthcare providers.

Healthcare Ergonomics Best Practices and Resources

Patient hospital bed moved by medical staff to operating room. Surgeons pushing patient on bed into surgery. Medical team moving old patient on gurney through hospital corridor for an urgent operation.

Ergonomics means designing tasks and equipment to fit the worker to reduce risk of injury. Health care facilities are prone, due to the nature of the work, to have ergonomic stressors impacting their staff. Employee injuries lead to increased costs, higher turnover rate, increased sick days, and short staffing.

Nursing Homes Ergonomics

Many patients in nursing homes are reliant on health care providers for basic day-to-day activities including dressing, bathing, and toileting. These types of activities put physical strain on healthcare workers – multiple times a day, as they require lifting and transferring patients safely.

To help avoid healthcare worker injuries, employers should ensure:

  • Workplace analysis to identify and correct workplace hazard and exposure to ergonomic stressors.
  • Injury recording and analysis to identify injury patterns, allowing visibility to correct unforeseen risks.
  • Hazard prevention and control including administrative and engineering controls. Administrative controls ensure adequate staffing and assessment of needs. Engineering controls cover design, training and use of tools and equipment to reduce injuries to healthcare providers, e.g. equipment used to lift patients.
  • Training programs to ensure continual education is in place and performed by a qualified trainer. Successful training programs confirm that both new and existing employees are up-to-date on ergonomic risks in the workplace.

Lifting guidelines are particularly relevant for healthcare workers in a nursing home environment. The United States Department of Labor – Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) provides the following lifting guidelines:

  • Never transfer patients/residents when off balance.
  • Lift loads close to the body.
  • Never lift alone, particularly fallen patients/residents, use team lifts or use mechanical assistance.
  • Limit the number of allowed lifts per worker per day.
  • Avoid heavy lifting especially with spine rotated.
  • Training in when and how to use mechanical assistance.

OSHA also offers recommendations around Patient Handling Programs and Patient Handling Controls.

Laboratory Ergonomics

Laboratories lend themselves towards ergonomic risks due to their focus on efficiency which can distract from safe working practices. There are many resources created by UCLA Ergonomics that offer best practices for healthcare ergonomics in a laboratory setting:

Healthcare Ergonomics – Cornell University Resources

Healthcare ergonomics is a critical issue. Cornell University Ergonomics has focused several studies and project in this area of ergonomics including:

Healthcare Ergonomics – Pushing/Pulling Medical Equipment

darcor workplace ergonomics guide

Most healthcare environments possess many large, heavy equipment. This medical equipment must be mobile, so it can be moved where needed across the healthcare facility. Additionally, medical equipment must frequently be maneuvered quickly and safely in a variety of environments (wet, hazardous materials, over cords, etc.). Finally, noise considerations must be taken into account as patients require rest and cannot be bombarded by noisy equipment constantly being moved around. That’s a tall order for medical equipment designers.

Darcor wrote an article entitled, Blueprint to Design Medical Equipment with Operators in Mind, to assist medical equipment designers to achieve improved design and mobility of medical equipment and carts; it outlines 4 best practices:

  1. Low push/pull force
  2. Noise Reduction
  3. Reduced Shock and Impact Loading
  4. Adjustable Height

economics of ergonomics guide cover manual material handling

Other companies and organizations are also focusing on this area, providing resources to focus on improvements to reduce risk of injuries:

Clearly there are many areas of healthcare ergonomics that can be improved to help minimize risk to dedicated healthcare providers. Of course, all workers deserve protection, but our healthcare workers are caring and critical to our society’s well-being and should be cared for accordingly.

If you are interested in ways to reduce workplace injuries and explore budget considerations for proactive ergonomic programs, download these ergonomics guides:

This blog was originally published in July 2018.