More than a million American workers suffer back injuries each year, and 70% of all workers will experience low back pain, so avoiding musculoskeletal disorders is a vital part of dental office operations.
OSHA safety regulations require that dental offices establish a safety program, perform training, assess ergonomic stressors and explain back injury hazards and precautions to employees. The biggest challenge to OSHA compliance is implementation.
Ergonomics facilitates implementation in practice settings. Ergonomics is called “human engineering,” since it focuses on how the workplace should be designed for safety, comfort, efficiency and productivity. Ergonomics reduces injury and improves the service dentists deliver to patients.
Sitting for protracted periods in a hunching position stresses the spine. Take frequent breaks and stretch to relax your back. Better to take a few extra minutes to finish a procedure than to go home with an aching back because you would not stop to stand!
Workstations should be designed to reduce discomfort, fatigue, and to eliminate or help avoid aches and pains. How does your workstation stack up? What can you do to make positive changes?
You may think that by developing strength in the back, shoulders, hips and thighs, we could reduce back injuries. But strength alone offers no protection. To make matters worse, back stressors take many forms ... from the heavy object you tried to lift to the hours you spend in your chair and inclined toward a patient.
What to do? First, focus on posture. Keep your shoulders back and your back straight whenever possible. Bend the knees when you lift, and keep your chin up. Look straight ahead when lifting or bending, and pivot your feet rather than twisting. Whether you are lifting an object, helping a patient sit or stand, or preparing for a long cleaning session in an uncomfortable position, think before you engage.
Second, work at waist level and work with smaller loads. Look for potential problems before you begin to move an object or a patient. Position your chair or work environment so that you can look straight ahead at your work without twisting or jerking. Make sure the position will allow you to maintain a straight spine.
Finally, whether you’re working with a file, a computer or a patient, keep the work close to you. If you can't bend your elbows while you're working, you are probably not close enough to the work at hand.
Sometimes, you'll need to help a patient position themselves. If the patient is not strong enough to push up with their hands, place one of your arms beneath the patient's knees. Move your other arm behind the patient's back. Keep your feet at shoulder width, your knees bent and your back in a natural, straight position. Don't bend at the waist. Always keep your body as close to the patient's center of gravity as possible, and remember to use your leg muscles to lift or pull.
If the patient is too heavy for you to help, get assistance.
Exercise, nutrition and stress all affect spinal health. If you are injured at home, the injury may affect your work performance. A quick daily program of stretching and exercise will help dental office employees prevent many common back injuries.
Smart Training’s Platinum Dental Package contains a complete OSHA-compliant Back Safety training module written especially for dental offices. Get more details here.