The Ins-and-Outs of Healthcare Ergonomics (and How to Make the Most Out of What You Put In)


The American Heritage Science Dictionary defines Ergonomics as the applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort. The most effective ergonomic implementations match the work environment to the individual, creating a space that it is well suited to each worker’s unique requirements. When implemented thoughtfully, an ergonomic workspace improves a work environment by reducing the potential for workplace injury as well as enhancing worker health and well being.


Employee injuries lead to increased injury costs, higher turnover rates, increased sick/injured days, and staffing shortages.

The US Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published several studies that indicate that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the leading cause of pain, suffering, and disability in American workplaces. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that MSD cases account for one-third of all cases of worker injury and illnesses.

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) include:

 Carpal tunnel syndrome
 Tendinitis
 Rotator cuff / shoulder injuries
 Elbow Epicondylitis
 Trigger finger
 Muscle strains and lower back injuries

There are legal implications attached to safety and ergonomics.

OSHA regulations require that employers record each fatality, work related injury, and illness that occurs on-site. All new cases must be documented if they include days away from work, restrictions in work, job transfers, and/or medical treatment.

An ergonomically-focused workplace can support your organization's compliance with OSHA regulations while reducing the impact of MSDs on the workforce. Workers compensation insurance requirements vary by state, by industry, and in some cases by the size and structure of the business. In most cases, however, workers compensation insurance is required, and companies that do not carry insurance can face fines, lawsuits, or criminal charges.


Healthcare settings including hospitals, clinics, and centers provide unique and sometimes challenging environments to ensure worker and patient safety.

Healthcare workers that are required to lift, move, or transport patients need to employ assistive technology and good lifting techniques to prevent injuries. Other healthcare positions requiring repetitive movements or motions can also result in worker injury. Reaching, twisting, and pushing objects or materials can also be hazardous.

In addition to physical labor, technology also plays an important role in ergonomics.

Last year it was found that 90% of office-based physicians nationwide will be using electronic medical records by the end of 2017 and that is only going to rise in 2018. As adoption rates increase, so too will the need for ergonomically-appropriate computers, tablets, and technology. Companies need to expand their safety programs to include the use of technology in their overall planning.


Healthcare centers, clinics, and hospitals are quickly moving their technology away from centralized areas to patient bedsides—where a healthcare employee may sit or stand to complete their computer/medical record work.

Computers and tablets are often mounted on portable rolling carts to facilitate a mobile and agile workspace. Additionally, many different workers frequently use the same cart or tablet when treating patients, especially in workplaces with multiple shifts or when multiple staff treat a single patient.

A movable cart that easily supports both sitting and standing is essential to an ergonomically-friendly environment.

  • It should be easy for employees to adjust or modify a tablet/monitor height on a cart so that it works best for them.
  • Keyboards and other input devices should promote good proper positioning of the body to reduce strain.
  • A portable workspace that supports ergonomics is key to prevent MSDs and enhance worker productivity.

Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) provides several tools for organizations who want to evaluate, design, and maintain an ergonomically-supportive work environment (

These tools include worksheets and checklists for workstations, seating, chairs, wall stations, and carts. Cornell has also developed an ROI estimator to determine the potential financial benefits of an ergonomics-focused intervention. The ROI estimator provides fields to enter salary, employee, and other information to complete the calculations. Cornell’s estimator utilizes a 1% productivity increase as a performance change of less than 1 minute per hour.

Cornell cites a Washington State study of office ergonomics that shows the median productivity increase following an ergonomic intervention is 12%.


A strong implementation of ergonomics in the workplace has a financial impact through reduced workers’ compensation and health insurance costs. In addition to direct economic implications, there are other costs associated with the hiring and training of replacement workers. OSHA provides tools to assist companies in calculating the results of safety programs, including those of the ergonomic variety. TRIR (Total Recordable Incident Rate) allows companies to compare injury rates to other similar company’s injury rates to determine if their programs need review or modification. DART (Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred) calculates days away from work, days of restricted work activities, and/or days of job transfer. Similar to TRIR, DART can provide important data for companies to help evaluate their workplaces and implement improvements.

There are other benefits to ergonomically-friendly workplaces beyond just financial ones. Healthier workers are able to more freely contribute to a workplace and impact corporate results. Equipment that is properly located and adjusted for the employee supports greater efficiency and productivity. A safety and ergonomics program in any work environment can lead to improved employee morale and job satisfaction.

While employee happiness can be difficult to measure, the University of Warwick has published a study that indicates that happier employees have improved productivity, which can lead to a ‘potentially powerful economic impact’.

All companies should create a safety plan to prevent workplace injuries and comply with federal and state regulatory requirements. OSHA provides several resources to create an analysis, hazard prevention, training, and management programs. All safety plans should include a component to review the work environment with an eye towards opportunities to enhance office ergonomics.


In conclusion, ergonomics play an important role in the workplace by reducing costs and enhancing employee efficiency, productivity, and satisfaction.


Photo: ILO in Asia and the Pacific via Flickr

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