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Keywords:

  • occupational health;
  • participatory ergonomics;
  • ergonomics teams;
  • health care workers;
  • intervention research;
  • injury prevention;
  • work-related musculoskeletal disorders

Abstract

Background:

High rates of work-related injuries are seen among health care workers involved in lifting and transferring patients. We studied the effects of a participatory worker–management ergonomics team among hospital orderlies.

Methods:

This prospective intervention trial examined work injuries and other outcomes before and after the intervention, with other hospital employees used as a concurrent control. All orderlies in a 1,200-bed urban hospital were studied using passively collected data (mean employment during study period 100–110 orderlies); 67 orderlies (preintervention) and 88 orderlies (postintervention) also completed a questionnaire. The intervention was the formation of a participatory ergonomics team with three orderlies, one supervisor, and technical advisors. This team designed and implemented changes in training and work practices.

Results:

The 2-year postintervention period was marked by decreased risks of work injury (RR = 0.50, 95% CI 0.35–0.72), lost time injury (RR = 0.26, 95% CI 0.14–0.48), and injury with three or more days of time loss (RR = 0.19, 95% CI 0.07–0.53). Total lost days declined from 136.2 to 23.0 annually per 100 full-time worker equivalents (FTE). Annual workers' compensation costs declined from $237/FTE to $139/FTE. The proportion of workers with musculoskeletal symptoms declined and there were statistically significant improvements in job satisfaction, perceived psychosocial stressors, and social support among the orderlies.

Conclusion:

Substantial improvements in health and safety were seen following implementation of a participatory ergonomics program. Am. J. Ind. Med. 35:358–365, 1999. © 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.