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Motion Control Engineering & Manufacturing Resources

Ergonomics in Healthcare: Caring for Caretakers

Ergonomics in Healthcare: Caring for Caretakers

Posted by Weber Knapp on Jun 12, 2023 2:43:58 PM

healthcare worker at work station

We’re facing a healthcare crisis of sorts in America – and it predates the pandemic.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services

“There is a projected shortage of more than 3 million essential low-wage health workers in the next five years and a projected shortage of nearly 140,000 physicians by 2033.”

Staffing shortages and excessive workloads are contributing to health worker burnout. 

There’s a compounding effect with job burnout – it leads to a host of issues, including excessive stress, fatigue, and insomnia. These lead to mistakes and injuries on-the-job, especially in healthcare where both repetitive tasks and heavy lifting are required.

What addresses both monotonous and strenuous movement? Ergonomics.

That’s why focusing on ergonomics in healthcare is one critical step to taking care of our nation’s caretakers and alleviating some of the burdens they face in delivering patient treatment. 

Total injuries and illnesses in selected industry sectors, thousands, private industry, 2019-21 

total injuries by industry

*Health care and social assistance was the only private industry sector that had a decrease in the total number of cases in 2021, decreasing 183,200 cases to 623,000 in 2021. This was driven by a 163,600 decrease in the number of respiratory illness cases in 2021, decreasing to 145,300 respiratory illness cases in this sector. [U.S. Dept. of Labor Statistics]


Understanding the Importance of Ergonomics in Healthcare

What is ergonomics in healthcare? 

From providing adjustable furniture and equipment to training in safe lifting techniques, ergonomic practices can make a significant difference for those working in healthcare.

Reminder: What Is Ergonomics? 

Ergonomics is an interdisciplinary field of science that focuses on improving working conditions and products to optimize user comfort, safety, efficiency, and productivity. 

Essentially, ergonomics addresses the physical abilities and limitations of the human body in relation to our tasks, tools, and environments.

The purpose of ergonomics in the workplace is mainly to prevent soft tissue injuries caused by exposure to repetitive force, motion, and vibration, and poor body positioning -- mainly musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Common MSDs include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tendinitis
  • Rotator cuff injuries (affects the shoulder)
  • Epicondylitis (affects the elbow)
  • Trigger finger
  • Muscle strains and low back injuries

Creating an environment that is ergonomically-minded should include furniture and equipment designed with comfort and support in mind. 

Adequate breaks between tasks can also help reduce strain and fatigue. Furthermore, setting up work environments in an ergonomically sound way helps prevent repetitive stress injuries and make tasks more comfortable, ultimately leading to improved productivity and job satisfaction.

Research shows that ergonomic interventions not only reduce musculoskeletal pain but also improve job performance. From those working in patient records to the doctors and nurses treating patients, ergonomics’  benefits are universal and apply to all healthcare professionals.

Consider these reasons to invest in medical ergonomic solutions: 

  • A decrease in the physical stress and strain that contributes to burnout:

Healthcare is physically demanding with long hours spent standing, walking, bending, and lifting. Incorporating ergonomics helps reduce the toll of stresses on staff’s bodies.

  • Fewer staff injuries, requests for time off, and worker's compensation payouts:

The healthcare and social assistance industry has the highest rates of injury and illness of those tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Providing ergonomic equipment and training mitigates injuries, thus reducing lost time and worker’s comp claims.

  • Fewer patient-care mistakes:

Staff who are distracted by physical pain are more likely to have trouble concentrating, listening to patients, and collaborating with coworkers. They make more mistakes. Sometimes they’re small and inconsequential, but sometimes they’re not. It’s safer to invest in ergonomics to ensure you’re heading off preventable errors.

  • A more positive, productive environment with reduced employee turnover:

With decreased physical stress, less burnout, fewer injuries, and fewer mistakes, you’ll have a healthier work environment to continue providing care with less incidence of turnover.



Equipment Options for Medical Ergonomics 

We’ve covered what ergonomics is and why ergonomics is important in healthcare. Now let’s look at the ergonomic options for medical- and health-related equipment

  • Medical centrifuges – desktop centrifuges equipped with spring-assisted or counterbalance hinges can be loaded at a low height and are easy to close without significant force
  • Microscope slide staining equipment – outfitting microscope slide staining equipment with counterbalance hinges can make the relatively heavy lid easy to lift (see the Ventana Benchmark Ultra for an example)
  • Blood draw stations – enhance both patient comfort and nurse convenience
  • IV poles/stations – heavy-duty, single-column infusion stands with ergonomic hand cranks offer comfort and convenience
  • Transfer chairs with arm latches & footrests – adjust to any patient and facilitate the transfer process; relieve pressure on assistant backs; stabilize weight distribution; help patients who are more comfortable rising to the side as opposed to straight forward
  • Bed lift mechanisms – help patients sit up and lay down when necessary
  • Multi-purpose furniture – such as convertible sofas, chairs, and tables save space in crowded patient rooms to give staff unimpeded movement
  • Medical mobile computer carts – offer real-time flexibility and improvement in overall operations

Other Ergonomic Equipment Options:

Weber Knapp’s History of Ergonomic Innovation

Our journey into ergonomics began four decades ago in the early 1980s. At that time we manufactured one of the first office furniture adjustable keyboard arms. That one keyboard arm was just the beginning for us and has opened up an entirely new world of innovative opportunities for our engineering team throughout the past 40 years. 

See our ergonomic solutions in motion:


Tips For Creating An Ergonomically Sound Care Environment 

We’ve dived deep into the who, what, when, where, and why of ergonomics. Now, let’s look at the how:

How do you create a healthcare environment that incorporates ergonomics? Follow these steps:

  1. Identify Problems – Review your injury records, map out hazards in the workplace, and most importantly, involve staff in the process. To get started on how to conduct an ergonomic assessment, try this checklist from OSHA
  2. Implement Solutions – Modify your current equipment or upgrade to new equipment and develop practices addressing performing tasks ergonomically.
  3. Provide Training & Assistance – Why is training an important element in the ergonomic process? Teaching staff the importance of and how to practice ergonomic principles is key to preventing ergonomic injuries. Additionally, support staff by creating a system to recognize and report early indicators of MSDs before they become injuries.

Caring for Caretakers | Keep Ergonomics in Mind

Taking care of healthcare workers and their ergonomic needs should be a top priority for any organization. 

Ergonomics in healthcare provide better employee health, fewer lost days, and more productivity. Dedicating resources towards making sure health professionals are able to perform at the highest level is a healthy investment. 


Need More Ergonomics Guidance?

Making informed decisions on ergonomics isn’t always easy. Download our free Manager’s Equipment Guide to get started: 

Manager's Equipment Guide

Topics: Ergonomics, Medical Equipment