Why Develop and Maintain an Ergonomics Program in a Hospital Setting?

by Professor Ergo on May 3, 2010

We recently attended the Applied Ergonomics Conference in San Antonio, and our team enjoyed the Ergocup competition and the ergonomic workshops offered during the event.  Ryan and I will be blogging about several of the workshops we attended over the next couple weeks.

One of the workshops we attended discussed the importance of developing and sustaining ergonomic programs in a hospital setting.  Believe it or not, a lot of hospitals have been slow to hop on the ergo-band wagon.  There’s no OSHA standards because all the different duties performed in a healthcare setting are too difficult and complex to classify, and many hospitals don’t have room in their budget to accommodate requests for evaluations or supplies.  The biggest problems that result from this are:

  • Someone is doing a job they’re not fit to do
  • Employee injuries occur from multiple or repetitive ergonomic stressers, such as requirements outweighing an individual’s capacity
  • Musculoskeletal disorders from job duties

The main problems that ergonomists face in a hospital setting is reducing manual patient lifting or identifying and solving problems caused by ergonomic stressers. Once they’ve done their assessments and analysis, the recommended plan of action is to list:

  • Jobs with ergonomic recordables like carpel tunnel, restricted range of motion or back injuries
  • Areas with the highest turnover
  • Departments that have high lost work days or reduced work days from injuries
  • Claims from workers compensation
  • Positions that have the highest risk factors, including force frequency and posture.  An example would be a nurse that’s required to lift people from chairs or beds

This data is found by referencing charts, logs, first aid reports, and workers compensation claims.  Why is it important to put this together when selling an ergonomic program to management?  Primarily, it simplifies the cause and effect relationship between budgetary strains and injuries that take place at the hospital. One musculoskeletal disorder from a job injury on average costs $100,000.  Secondarily, there are high workers compensation costs, a lack of staff on top of the employee shortage a hospital is already dealing with, and the expense of training new employees repeatedly because of high turnover in certain departments.

The solution lies in cost-effective fixes. An internal ergonomic budget should address:

  • Top 5 ergonomic issues
  • Ergonomic risk scores
  • Positive and negative recordables
  • Annual workers compensation claims versus cost of the project, including material costs and payback time

If management approves an ergonomics program, the following steps are typically taken to eliminate risk factors prior to launch:

  1. Develop guidelines for improvement
  2. Perform risk assessments like force frequency, posture analysis, and workstation design
  3. Improve workstation designs
  4. Do a secondary analysis

At this point, you can train employees about new workstations and ergonomic stressers to avoid.  This gets people involved and aware, and improvements from developing an ergonomic program include:

  • Reduction in turnover and absenteeism
  • Boost in morale
  • Avoiding injuries
  • Less ergonomic risk
  • Higher quality of work

Finally, a major accomplishment from creating an ergonomics program is giving management the chance to take part in a reactive leadership role; this provides for better employee interaction.  When employees see management making an effort to improve the workplace for the workers’ benefit, the results are overwhelmingly positive.

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Written by Professor Ergo

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