Hospitals tend to be some of the most dangerous places at which people earn a living. As a healthcare worker, you may be exposed to workplace violence, hazardous chemicals, illnesses and bodily fluids, long hours on the floor, slips and falls, and intense physical and mental stress. Healthcare workers are nearly twice as likely to get injured on the job as those in other industries.
Even without the threat of workplace violence and possible exposure to hazardous materials, all that walking, lifting, bending, and writing can easily take a toll on your physical health, raising your risk of developing a range of medical conditions, including what’s known as work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WMSD), carpal tunnel syndrome, or tendonitis.
That’s why we’re taking some time to talk about the ergonomics of healthcare. Improving the ergonomics of your workplace will help you and your employees work smarter, not harder. The job won’t feel as physically demanding, and you won’t have to worry as much about throwing out your back, pulling a muscle, or injuring yourself on the job. Learn more about improving the ergonomics of healthcare.
What Is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the science of optimizing workplace conditions based on the capabilities of your workforce. For example, forcing your employees to lift heavy objects day in and day out will wear away at their ability to do their jobs, considering the limitations of the human body. Instead, have your employees use a lift truck or dolly to move heavy objects, so they don’t have to bend over or exert their muscles as often throughout the day.
If the ergonomics of your workplace are strong, your employees should be able to comfortably complete the task at hand without injuring themselves in the process. Strong ergonomics lead to higher productivity, fewer workplace injuries, and increased employee satisfaction.
Unfortunately, the healthcare industry isn’t known for its strong ergonomics. Healthcare and social assistance workers experience some of the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorder, with an incidence rate of 208.4 per 10,000 workers. Overall, WMSD accounts for around 53% of all injury and illness cases among nurses. Back injuries in the healthcare industry cost an estimated $20 billion annually. Nursing home and long-term care employees tend to face a higher risk of sprains, muscle aches, MSD, and back injuries than traditional care providers.
Tips for Improving the Ergonomics of Your Facility
Improving workplace ergonomics all depends on your specific facility and the duties and responsibilities of your employees. Start by taking stock of your workplace. Conduct a safety assessment using a licensed professional to identify any potential risks in your workplace, including not only threats of physical violence and potential exposure to hazardous materials, but also possible stress points that may take a toll on the health and wellbeing of your employees.
You’ll also need to consider the daily routines of your employees. Talk to your staff members to see which aspects of the job tend to be the most physically challenging. Your nurses and healthcare aides are bound to be exhausted at the end of a 12-hour shift, so do your best to relieve some of the most physically demanding aspects of the job, such as bending, lifting, moving patients, carrying equipment, and walking to and from different parts of the facility.
Once you’ve done your research, start adjusting your workplace and analyze the results. Here are a few examples of how you can improve the ergonomics of your workplace:
- Avoid storing in-demand equipment and supplies in hard-to-reach areas, such as low to the ground or on the top shelf.
- Consider investing in more comfortable office equipment, such as reclining desk chairs, to improve the wellbeing of your employees.
- Increase the lighting to help your employees see more clearly on the job.
- Avoid storing equipment and gurneys in narrow aisles and pathways.
- Create a system for cleaning up spills and leaks as quickly as possible to prevent trips and falls.
- Raise the height of patient beds when possible, so your employees don’t have to bend down as far to care for patients.
- Make sure your employees have a safe place to sit down and relax on their breaks.
- Limit the number of hours your employees can work in a day, week, or month.
- Swap out the junk food in your vending machine for healthier options.
- Encourage everyone to put items and equipment back where they belong to prevent accidents and mishaps.
- Consider moving workstations to a new area, so your employees don’t have to walk as far within your facility.
- Encourage your employees to wear proper shoes, so they don’t get as tired on the floor.
Keep these ideas in mind when adjusting the ergonomics of your facility. Small changes can yield big results. Your employees won’t feel as tired at the end of their shifts and they won’t have to worry about breaking their backs on the job. It’s all about keeping your employees comfortable.