August 06 2013 Ergonomics

Rebecca (McPheeters) Ellson, RN, COHN-S/CM, MBA, Health Consultant for InSafe provides insight in implementing Ergonomic Programs for Healthcare Facilities - Part 1

The purpose of this article is to identify the key steps to successfully implement an ergonomics program for healthcare workers to decrease their risk for musculoskeletal injuries and provide a safer work environment.


According to NIOSH, musculoskeletal disorders are the most frequent and debilitating injuries for health care workers. These injuries are usually caused by improper patient handling/lifting and repetitive stress. The main initiatives of safety in healthcare facilities have been focused on patient safety.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that in 2011, the rate of overexertion injuries averaged across all industries was 38 per 10,000 for full-time workers. By comparison, the overexertion injury rate for:

• Hospital  workers was twice the average (76 per 10000),
• Nursing home workers was over three times the average (132 per 10000), and
• Ambulance workers were over six times the average (238 per 10000).

The single greatest risk factor for overexertion injuries in healthcare workers is the manual lifting, moving and repositioning of patients, residents or clients. In spite of these challenges, many health care institutions have successfully prevented musculoskeletal injuries by using a combination of innovative approaches.

Ergonomic Programs for Healthcare Facilities

In my experience working with healthcare industries in reducing musculoskeletal injuries, one of the most successful strategies was to implement Ergonomic Programs including Ergonomic Committees and employees trained as Ergonomic Specialists. In order to be successful, top management buy-in is essential in establishing priorities for prevention through adopting safety policies, procedures and guidelines focusing on the control and prevention of musculoskeletal injuries.  Implementation of an ergonomic program includes analyzing all patient handling job tasks:

• Manual lifting
• Lateral transfer
• Ambulating
• Repositioning,
• Transporting, and
• Assisting with patient activities of daily living.

Successful ergonomic programs will focus on preventing and creating a workplace that is safe for the employees as well as maximizing the safety and comfort of patients.

Where to Start

The first step in the development of an ergonomic program is creating a strong, well-defined ergonomic policy. This policy should clearly communicate the responsibilities for implementing and managing the program to managers, supervisors and employees. A significant part of the programs will include designating a team leader and the identification of team members for the role of Ergonomic Specialists. It is critical to require that all “near misses” and injuries be investigated and root causes identified.
It is also important for management to take an active role in providing employees with the authority, resources, information and training to meet their responsibilities in correcting the root causes of injuries and support their efforts for injury prevention.

Check back for part 2 next post for more information!