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Ergonomics in Health Care Facilities

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


It is a well-established fact that many of the tasks you perform as a health care worker put you at an increased risk of musculoskeletal disorders, which can result in pain and lost time at work. These disorders can even be career-threatening: According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 12 percent of nurses leave the profession every year due to back injuries and over 52 percent of nurses complain of chronic back pain. Lifting or repositioning patients, repetitive tasks, and standing for more than four hours can contribute to these painful and debilitating disorders. When you begin to develop an injury, the pain may be localized (isolated to one spot) or it may migrate from place to place. It might be a burning pain, a sharp stabbing pain or a dull ache that doesn’t go away.


Common Musculoskeletal Disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders can affect muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, nerves and blood circulation. The most common pains come from strains in the neck, low back, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands and eyes, but they can also appear in the lower body. The way we work with patients and move our bodies contributes to various disorders.


Maintaining Flexibility and Strength

One main factor that contributes to strains is beginning to work without properly warming up; do not force your body to move in ways that it is not ready to move. There is real value in practicing some basic stretching and strengthening exercises to prepare your body for work. Dedicating a few minutes to these exercises can be extremely beneficial in the long run and could even save your job.


Doing simple exercises that improve your strength and endurance may help you avoid ergonomic injury. When you participate in aerobic or strength programs, you prepare your muscles for exertions on the job. Furthermore, simple stretching exercises can help you avoid problems during the day. Your neck can be stretched gently from side to side and then from front to back.  Stretch your back while sitting in a chair by bending your chin toward your knees. Stretch your arms and legs by reaching over your head and then touching your toes.


Lifting Techniques

When you are lifting or transferring a patient, always use any patient handling equipment that is available to you. Fit, young staff members are more likely to become injured because they overestimate their ability to lift patients without assistance. If you can, adjust the height of patients’ beds before caring for them. If you can, make use of shower chairs, toilet seat risers and technical lift equipment. When you do not have patient-handling tools, try to lift patients with your legs and never with your back. Never bend at your waist when you are lifting.


One final thought on lifting – back belts do not allow you to lift extra weight and they may cause more trouble than they are worth if they cause you to ignore proper lifting principles. Using the correct lifting procedure – not simply strapping on a back belt – is the best way to avoid back injuries when lifting.


Choosing the Right Shoes

Standing for long periods of time can put you at risk for pain in your feet and joints. Be sure to wear comfortable, cushioned shoes that grip your heel and support your arch. Avoid flats or heels over two inches, and make sure the shape of your shoe does not change the shape of your foot (as in pointed toes). Never purchase shoes for the job that pinch or inhibit your feet in any way.


Some Simple Steps to Avoid Stress

Much has been said about taking action against cumulative trauma disorders, repetitive motion injuries and other ergonomic problems. While our facility will do its best to provide the tools you need to stay injury-free, you must do your part to avoid injury, too. One of the best ways to do this is to recognize that muscles need rest every now and then. 


As you work, periodically take breaks to stretch and rest your muscles. If you are sitting, stand up and stretch. If you have been standing for long periods of time, sit down and stretch your back out again. If you can, change the type of task you work on after a period of time to give one set of muscle groups a rest while using others. Sometimes a little common sense can go a very long way in reducing your risk of pain and lost pay.


Final Thoughts…

If you think you might have symptoms of a musculoskeletal disorder, or if you would like ergonomic issues in your work area reviewed, remember to bring this information to your supervisor’s attention. Our facility is very interested in providing you with the tools you need to work without pain. If you have any questions regarding your work area, please speak up.

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

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