Ergonomics and Injury Prevention

woman rubbing her neck while sitting at a desk

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘ergonomics and injury prevention?’ If the word evokes images of yoga ball chairs or a computer mouse shaped like the Matterhorn, we’re not surprised. We joke about it because of the niche products that have surfaced, all in the name of proper posture and comfort.

But what exactly is ergonomics? And how do healthcare professionals avoid injuries due to bad ergonomics in the workplace?

What Is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is how humans interact with their work environment and how to design work environments and systems that are safe, comfortable, and efficient for workers. Simply, it is the science of fitting the job to the worker rather than the worker to the job.

Ergonomics aims to optimize the interaction between workers and their work environment, prevent injuries, reduce discomfort and fatigue, and increase productivity. Ergonomics considers many factors, including:

  • Workstation design and cleanliness
  • Tools and equipment
  • Work processes
  • Posture and movement patterns

In a healthcare setting, ergonomics is crucial as healthcare workers are often required to perform physically demanding tasks and are at risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). By applying ergonomic principles, healthcare organizations can create a safer, healthier, and more efficient work environment for their workers.

MSDs are a significant source of pain, discomfort, and lost productivity for healthcare workers, and they can also result in increased healthcare costs and workers’ compensation claims for healthcare organizations.

Common Healthcare Industry Injuries

Healthcare workers are at risk of developing a range of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) due to the physical demands of their work. Some of the most common ergonomic-related issues that healthcare workers face include:

  • Awkward postures: Healthcare workers often work in awkward or uncomfortable positions for extended periods, such as bending, reaching, or twisting. It leads to strain on muscles and joints and can contribute to developing MSDs such as back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain.
  • Repetitive motions: Healthcare workers often perform repetitive movements such as lifting and transferring patients, typing on keyboards, or using medical equipment. These repetitive motions can cause muscle fatigue and strain, leading to MSDs such as tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Forceful exertions: Healthcare workers often have to exert significant force when performing tasks such as lifting patients or moving heavy equipment. This can strain muscles and joints and lead to MSDs such as back pain and shoulder pain.
  • Prolonged standing: Healthcare workers are often required to stand for long periods, leading to fatigue, swelling, and pain in the legs, feet, and back.
  • Inadequate lighting: Poor lighting conditions can cause eye strain, headaches, and fatigue, increasing the risk of errors and accidents.

By addressing these ergonomic-related issues, healthcare organizations can reduce the risk of MSDs among their workers, improve productivity, and enhance the overall safety and comfort of the work environment.

The Cost of Bad Ergonomics

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the healthcare and social assistance sector has one of the highest rates of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in the United States, with approximately 540,000 injuries and illnesses reported in 2019. Among these injuries, MSDs are among the most common types of injuries reported in the healthcare industry.

The costs of healthcare workplace injuries are staggering, with estimates ranging from $7 billion to $20 billion annually. These costs include workers’ compensation claims, lost productivity, medical expenses, legal fees, and other indirect costs.

Preventing workplace injuries and promoting ergonomics can help reduce these costs, improve employee health and well-being, and enhance safety and productivity.

Preventing Workplace Injuries With Good Ergonomics

Healthcare organizations should implement an ergonomic program that identifies, evaluates, and controls ergonomic hazards in the workplace. It should include the following elements:

1. Identify and Evaluate Ergonomic Hazards

The first step should be to conduct a risk assessment to identify potential ergonomic hazards in the workplace. This could involve observing work activities, analyzing injury reports, and consulting with workers to identify areas of concern. Hazards are identified and evaluated to determine the level of risk they pose to workers.

2. Implement Control Measures

After identifying and evaluating ergonomic hazards, healthcare organizations should implement control measures to reduce or eliminate the risk of injury. These control measures include changing work processes, redesigning workstations or tools, and providing ergonomic training to workers.

3. Provide Ergonomic Training

Healthcare organizations should provide training to workers to help them recognize and address ergonomic hazards in the workplace. Training should cover proper lifting techniques, safe work practices, and recognizing early signs of MSDs.

4. Monitor and Evaluate the Program

Healthcare organizations should regularly monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of their ergonomic program. Steps include reviewing injury reports, conducting worker surveys, and analyzing production data to determine whether the program is achieving its objectives.

By implementing an effective ergonomic program, healthcare organizations can reduce the risk of MSDs, prevent injuries, and avoid costly workers’ compensation claims. Additionally, complying with OSHA regulations related to ergonomics can help organizations avoid fines and penalties and demonstrate their commitment to worker safety.