How do Australian optometrists manage work-related physical discomfort?



Background:  Work-related physical discomfort exists within the optometric profession. It is not well understood how optometrists manage this issue in their workplaces.

Method:  An online questionnaire was sent by e-mail to approximately 1,700 Australian optometrists. Participants were asked if they experienced work-related discomfort in any of eight nominated body regions. If so, they were asked to describe specific work tasks, which contribute to their work-related discomfort, and strategies they have adopted to minimise their discomfort. These data were subject to qualitative and quantitative analyses.

Results:  There was a 25 per cent response rate and 416 optometrists participated in the questionnaire. Work-related physical discomfort was reported by 339 respondents (81 per cent), most commonly with the use of the phoropter (n = 144, 35 per cent) and slitlamp (n = 94, 23 per cent). Males were more likely to report lower back discomfort with phoropter use (Chi-squared, p < 0.01) and ophthalmoscopy (Chi-squared, p < 0.01). To minimise discomfort, optometrists 41 years and older were more likely to report that they adjust their posture (Chi-squared, p < 0.03) and females were more likely to report that they alter their work schedule (Chi-squared, p < 0.05). A recurrent theme expressed by participants was an inability to make changes to improve their comfort due to room and equipment design, poorly maintained equipment, non-supply of suitable equipment or furniture and inherent difficulties within optometric tasks.

Conclusion:  There is a need for all optometrists to have skills to evaluate their own personal risk of discomfort in the consultation room. Owners and managers of optometric practices also need greater awareness of the importance of room and equipment design and maintenance on work-related discomfort. This has implications for the well-being of optometrists, for their productivity and for compliance with health and safety legislation.