Top Ten Ways to Ergonomically Enhance Your Veterinary Hospital

March 30, 2015

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) can be avoided by implementing ergonomic procedures. Ergonomics is the science that deals with the interaction of humans with their working environment. Proper ergonomic design is necessary to prevent repetitive strain injuries, which can develop over time and can lead to long-term disability. Recognizing risk factors is the first step in reducing potential injuries. Listed below are rfa’s ten top ways to avoid WMSDs at your veterinary hospital.

  1. Surgical Loupes and Magnification

Investing in a quality, ergonomically designed surgical loupe can improve the working posture. Many practitioners and staff argue that they do not need magnification because their vision is fine. But even with the best vision, bending over to see a small object within a surgical field may lead to poor neck and back posture. Look for surgical loupes which offer a line of adjustable declination angle (the angle at which the eyes will be declined). This ability to adjust the declination angle helps avoid eye, head, neck, and back strain.

  1. Select the Right Seating

The best way to reduce pressure in the back is to be in a standing position. However, there are times when you need to sit. Try “saddle seats” which reproduce the upright standing position when the doctor or assistant is sitting down. The molded saddle design keeps the spine in proper alignment while allowing mobility. Back pain is reduced because the person sits with reduced pressure on vertebral discs.

  1. Improve Computer Workstations

Repetitive Motion Disorder (RMD) can occur from the use of the keyboard or computer mouse. Invest in products that are designed to place the mousing arm in a natural position and prevent repetitive stress injuries (RSI) by creating better ergonomic posture. A wide variety of ergo-innovations in keyboards and mice are helping to reduce the stress and strain on hands.

  1. Use the Correct Grasp

Always select an ergonomically positive relaxed hold—not a rigid “death-grip”—on an instrument. The “modified pen grasp” is one of the first techniques taught in human preclinical dental education and is important when using dental hand instruments or power instruments. Without utilizing this grasp correctly, sustained musculoskeletal discomfort during procedures may occur during routine daily appointments.

  1. Limit the Use of Vibration Equipment

Studies conducted among human dental hygienists showed that the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) symptoms has been documented in 63% to 93% of dental hygienists due to repetitive use of small muscle groups, awkward and static postures, vibration from ultrasonic instruments, ill-fitting gloves, and limited time for recovery between procedures. Veterinary technicians should take a lesson from their human counterpart, and try to avoid extended periods of motorized equipment, scalers, or other hand tools that typically produce moderate to high vibrations.

  1. Avoid Awkward Postures

Doctors and staff are faced on a daily basis with treating animals which are of different shapes and sizes. Often times, a patient could be two times larger (or smaller) than a staff member. Examples of awkward postures include working with the hand(s) above the head; working with the elbow(s) above the shoulder; squatting or kneeling; or working with the neck, back, or wrist(s) bent more than 30 degrees. These positions could lead to musculoskeletal injuries and extended periods of performing these positions should be avoided.

  1. Reduce High Hand Force

More common in the treatment of large animals, high hand force when applied for extended periods can result in musculoskeletal injuries and should be avoided. Examples of high hand force include (1) pinching an object and applying more than 2 pounds of force per hand such as during large animal abdominal surgeries or (2) gripping an opening and applying more than 10 pounds of force per hand such as ear tagging or animal restraint.

  1. Avoid Heavy, Awkward Lifting

Veterinarians and staff encounter heavy, awkward lifting on a daily basis. Whether it is patient lifting or restraining, large animal foot or leg procedures, carrying equipment, or carrying heavy bags of animal food/feed, both repeated and infrequent lifting of heavy objects can result in musculoskeletal injuries. When faced with a lift, follow the basic OSHA recommended procedures of (1) plan your lift; (2) ask for help; (3) get a firm footing; (4) bend your knees; (5) tighten your stomach muscles; (6) lift with your legs; (7) keep the load close; and (8) keep your back upright.

  1. Reduce Repetitive Injuries

Repetitive motion injury (RMI) results when the tendons and nerves in the back, neck, shoulder, hand, wrist, or arm become irritated from overuse. Without enough recovery time, even activities involving very little force or repetitive motion can cause an injury. The symptoms of a potential RMI include fatigue, discomfort, pain, redness and swelling. Suggestions to avoid RMI include resting or stretching at the first sign of fatigue or discomfort to avoid injury, varying your work tasks, maintaining straight wrists, and working with your hands at approximately the same height as your elbows.

  1. Educate Staff

Alerting employees to workplace hazards and providing proper ergonomic training not only reduces the amount of work related injuries, but proper animal care techniques can also enhance patient care and hospital working. Additionally, when ergonomic procedures are implemented in animal care facilities, the benefits include an increase in patient care; an in increase in employee morale, and a decrease in the amount of workers’ compensation claims.

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