Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

Work-Related Injuries Amongst Occupational Therapists: A Preliminary Investigation

Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

Work-Related Injuries Amongst Occupational Therapists: A Preliminary Investigation

Article excerpt

Introduction

Musculoskeletal injuries are common among health care workers (Bork et al 1996, Glover 2002, Fragala and Pontani Bailey 2003, Waters et al 2006). Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMDs) may prevent health professionals from continuing to work in clinical roles, contribute to workforce shortages, or alter an individual's career path in an undesirable way (Cromie et al 2000). Occupational therapists are not likely to be exempt from this phenomenon. Work-related injuries amongst occupational therapists are an important issue for both individuals and health care organisations. They may reduce the capability of the workforce to meet service demands, leaving clients with less than optimal care. Furthermore, with mechanical and technological advances to assist with workplace activities that have the potential to cause injuries (such as heavy patient transfers), many workplace injuries may be preventable. However, as yet the incidence of WRMDs amongst occupational therapists has not been investigated.

The purpose of this investigation was to establish preliminary information regarding the incidence, reporting, impact and management of WRMDs amongst occupational therapists.

Literature review

Health professionals who work in comparable clinical settings to those of occupational therapists, and with similar client groups, have been found to have a very high incidence of WRMDs. It has been reported that as many as 91% of physiotherapists experience a WRMD during their career, with more than 80% experiencing symptoms in at least one body area within a 12-month period (Cromie et al 2000). WRMD recurrence rates of up to 88% among physiotherapists have also been reported (West and Gardner 2001).

Many of the factors thought to contribute to these high levels of WRMDs among physiotherapists may also apply to occupational therapists. These factors include the nature of delivering hands-on treatment, the physical handling of loads, and a culture of under-reporting and receiving treatment in-house from colleagues. Additional factors include the inadequate application of knowledge and skill in injury prevention to the therapist's own situation, resulting in poor self-protection strategies, inconsistent risk management, inadequate safety and manual handling education and caseload-related pressures (Australian Physiotherapy Association 2003).

A study of hand therapists found no difference in rates of pain or injury between physiotherapists and occupational therapists (Caragianis 2002). A systematic review of literature for nurses and physiotherapists extrapolated that occupational therapists are likely to experience a similar incidence of WRMDs (Alnaser 2007); however, there is currently no empirical evidence available to support this conclusion. This investigation aimed to establish preliminary empirical evidence regarding the incidence, reporting and management of WRMDs amongst occupational therapists.

Method

Design

An electronic survey, administered via a web-based platform, was used to investigate the incidence, reporting and management of WRMDs amongst occupational therapists. The framework for the survey design was based on previous studies (Cromie et al 2000, West and Gardner 2001) and adapted to the requirements of this investigation. The survey was divided into three sections: demographic information, incidence of WRMDs and history of WRMDs.

For the purpose of this investigation, a WRMD was defined as 'harm or damage sustained in the course of performing work duties which could be the result of either a specific incident or a cumulative trauma'. This definition was provided to respondents at the commencement of the survey and could be referred to during survey completion.

The survey was reviewed by occupational therapy department directors, institutional workforce development officers and occupational health and safety representatives from participating facilities. …

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