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It’s not just a sore back or aching shoulders; workplace tasks improperly done can lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorder and lots of other serious health issues.

Advocate Lutheran General Hospital’s food service team gets ergonomics makeover

Lifting improperly, pulling vs. pushing, overreaching, making repetitive motions, bending and twisting are all everyday motions for a food service worker. One foodservice team got help from a team of specialists to find solutions.

The “go, go, go” atmosphere of healthcare foodservice can often lead to “ouch, ouch, ouch,” on the team’s back, joints, knees…you get the idea. That industry truth led the foodservice team to seek solutions at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital (LGH) in Arlington Heights, Ill.

In partnering with an occupational therapists and ergonomic specialists, they found some answers to act on right away to ease some of the wear and tear that goes with foodservice jobs.

Noting team member injuries in the hospital kitchen areas, LGH Food and Nutrition Coordinator Mary Schutz reached out to the SIM Lab’s Bonnie Satinover, a workplace simulation specialist, who assembled a team to dive into ergonomic assessments and recommendations.

“In the last years, we’ve seen an increase of back injuries, shoulder and arms,” Schutz says. “We thought it would be beneficial for the team members to get ergonomic training. This is important because we can only change so much in the kitchen to make things ergonomically friendly, so teaching the team proper lifting, bending and reaching is a step to ensure safety.”

First, the specialists observed the team going about their normal day on the job, taking note of how, when and where they were lifting improperly, pulling vs. pushing, overreaching, making repetitive motions, bending and twisting. “These can all lead to long-term injuries when it’s a continuous strain on the body,” Schutz says.

Here is a bit of the learnings the LGH team gathered:

  • Workers band/stoop to load and retrieve trays (which weigh about 6 to 8 pounds) into host carts at 10” to 35” high. The specialists recommend body mechanics training to achieve the right posture and lifting mechanics, like stacking trays from top to bottom and making sure to slide tray in, rather than lifting and setting in, to minimize the distance of the reach/lift equation.
  • Workers overreach to high shelves to grab pots and pans from the supply stock. In this case, workers can alternate reaching hands to balance posture and minimize repetitive motions of the shoulder.
  • Grasping big stacks of trays and bowls with the hands pulls the wrists and forearms into awkward postures. Using straight/neutral wrist positions can help, as can standardizing more manageable loads of trays, for example.
  • When carts are loaded too full with bowls, trays, etc., workers should push before pulling and pull before lifting. Lowering handles on carts also helps with a better upright posture.
  • Overstocked shelves also contribute to physical strain. It’s best to weed out shelves regularly and eliminate the lowest and highest shelves to avoid overreaching and unnecessary lifting. The “Safe Work Zone” is waist to chest level: that’s where heavy items should be stored.
  • When reaching into a milk refrigerator, using the “golfer’s lift” (one arm reaches to pick up the object while the other arm hangs onto a stationary object can minimize trunk flexion and shifts the motion into hinging at the hip). See a video demonstrating golfer’s lift here.

While the realities of the kitchen have limitations, making changes like these can make a big difference in preventing injury.

“There are things in the kitchen that will always be an issue of concern, but making the team self-aware, and giving them proper training, we can counter the effects of repetitive motions and other ergonomic concerns,” Schutz says. “We implemented stretching at our morning huddles, which is not only practicing self-care, but has increased engagement in the department.”

Contact Tara at [email protected]

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