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HITEC II STUDY – WORK ENVIRONMENT

Ergonomics

Occupational ergonomics seeks to improve the fit between the person and the job through optimizing job design or the work system broadly. Desired goals include reduced risk of injury, better employee health (musculoskeletal, mental, cardiovascular, etc.), improved job satisfaction and higher productivity/work capacity. Workplace ergonomics addresses physical issues like optimizing workstation layout, lifting tasks, static loads and prolonged standing or sitting, with the goal of reducing and avoiding injury and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Good ergonomic work design attempts to minimize:

  • Repetition of movements, especially if rapid
  • Non-neutral joint angles (awkward postures), especially if held in one position for long periods of time (static postures)
  • High forces, both grip force and force used moving heavy objects (including inmates)
  • Contact of body parts with sharp edges
  • Rapid motion of body parts
  • Vibration

But ergonomics is by no means limited to those job-level considerations of physical task features (CHP News and Views, Issue #1, 2007).v In addition to the physical aspects of work, the social and psychological characteristics of work have a profound influence on MSD rates and accident rates.

Psychosocial work factors may involve many different aspects of work, including:

  • High psychological demands. These include time pressure, conflicting and/or multiple demands, unclear roles, etc.
  • Low control over the job
  • Lack of opportunity for learning and using skills
  • Low support from coworkers or supervisors
  • Low recognition or rewards for the effort put into the job
  • Unfairness of organizational policies and procedures
  • Incivility in the workplace

Workplaces with similar levels of physical demands can differ markedly in negative outcomes, depending on the psychosocial environment. Psychosocial issues have also been linked to work performance as well as the development of physical and mental health problems (CDC, 2008).

These physical and psychosocial risk factors can have a profound effect on employees. They are influenced by the underlying work organization: how the organization distributes, schedules and designs the work tasks and how they relate to each other. Many studies have identified the increased trend in unhealthy work organization, resulting in increased absenteeism, stress, and decreased citizenship behavior and job performance. Moreover, studies have identified these organizational risk factors (such as mandatory shiftwork, prolonged sedentary work, and sudden burst of activity coupled with emotional arousal) as vehicles for a rapid degradation of health among newly recruited correctional officers (Warren et al., 2012).

In 2012, a study was conducted by the UConn Health, through the Health Improvement Through Employee Control (HITEC) project, at various correctional facilities in Connecticut. This study looked at the rapid onset of musculoskeletal symptoms with job tenure in correction officers (COs) when compared to manufacturing workers. The study found that COs suffered from much higher disorders and complaints of musculoskeletal problems in all body regions (except for hand and forearm) when compared to manufacturing workers, and much earlier in their careers. They found that COs complained more of spinal and lower extremity symptoms than manufacturing workers. In addition, COs were observed to have more days absent from work when compared to aerospace manufacturing workers.

The intensity of musculoskeletal symptoms was found to be related to tenure and gender at the state Department of Correction (DOC) and was found to be independent of age. In addition, tenure was associated with worsening of psychosocial exposures. Rates of injury were also found to be much higher in COs compared to manufacturing workers.

Ergonomic Tips for Correctional Officers

  • For work involving awkward working postures, correctional officers should (adopted from Queensland Government website):
    • Always stay aware of good posture and ergonomics when in motion or when seated/standing still.
    • Maintain the body in alignment while sitting in an office chair and while standing.
    • Train to maintain the straightest forward-facing position.
    • Have the arms close to the body and try not to reach away or overhead.
    • Try to alternate positions frequently. Avoid standing, sitting, kneeling or squatting for a long time.
    • Try to minimize bending or overreaching.
  • For work involving high forces:
    • Try to plan and organize work in a way that minimizes the physical effort required to lift, carry or hold items by having items as close as possible to the workstation or where they are needed.
    • Use transport/wheeled devices as permitted.
    • Push rather than pull.
  • Use break time.
  • Use exercise to help prevent injury and promote good posture.
  • Stretch.
  • Wear supportive footwear when standing.

Risks of Prolonged Standing

  • Lower back pain
  • Leg pain and discomfort
  • Fatigue
  • Varicose veins
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Chronic venous insufficiency

Tips for Prolonged Standing

  • Stand with weight distributed between the balls of the feet and the heels.
  • Keep feet slightly apart, about shoulder-width.
  • Let arms hang naturally down the sides of the body.
  • Avoid locking the knees.
  • Tuck the chin in a little to keep the head level.
  • Be sure the head is balanced on top of the spine, not pushed out forward.
  • Stand straight and tall, with shoulders upright.
  • Alternate postures. While standing, shift your weight and put up a foot. After a while change feet.
  • Stand against a wall with shoulders and bottom touching wall. In this position, the back of the head should also touch the wall. If it does not, the head is carried too far forward (anterior head carriage).
  • Wear cushioned shoe inserts and arch supports.
  • Elevate legs on breaks.
  • Where possible, use softer flooring or cushioned “ergo mats.”
  • Attain or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Help prevent chronic venous insufficiency with supportive stockings, found in most pharmacies or by prescription.
  • Stay active and get plenty of exercise. Walking is especially helpful for your legs!

For sitting posture for office chairs and stations, you can follow the proper workstation adjustment procedures.

References

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (February, 2008). Expanding Our Understanding of the Psychosocial Environment.

CHP News and Views, Issue #1, 2007.

Schubbe, J. (2004).Spine-Health. Posture to Straighten Your Back.

The State of Queensland. (2011). Key Health and Safety Tips for Prison and Security Officers.

Warren, N., Dussetschleger, J., Cherniack, M., Punnet, L. (2012). Correctional Officers: Rapid Onset of Musculoskeletal Symptoms with Job Tenure.