As a childcare worker, we are naturally concerned over the safety of the children, but often times, we overlook our own safety, which can potentially affect child safety. Whether you’re working in a childcare facility, caring for infants, toddlers, or preschool age children, one of the top hazards that we may encounter in the workplace is musculoskeletal disorders, also known as MSD. The prevalence of MSD back/neck and shoulder discomfort in childcare workers in one study was shown to be between 43-61% and 25-35.4% respectively (1).
What is MSD?
MSD are injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system. They may be caused or aggravated by various hazards or risk factors in the workplace. These injuries may involve muscles, tendons, tendon sheaths, nerves, bursa, blood vessels, joints, spinal discs, and ligaments (2).
In Ontario, MSDs account for over 40% of all Loss-Time Injuries at work according to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), and costs Ontario employers over half a billion dollars a year! While they are the most common injury, they have largely been ignored. Part of this is due to under reporting, or having a mindset that they are not preventable and it is just part of the job or task that you are doing.
MSD Primary Risk Factors
When it comes to MSD, there are three primary risk factors that put us at a higher risk of developing an MSD. These include awkward or static posture, force, and repetition. An understanding of these risk factors can assist us in preventing them from occurring or worsening in the workplace.
An awkward posture is a position that overloads muscles, tendons or joints. Anytime our joints that move away from the neutral posture are considered awkward. When we keep our body in a static or awkward posture, we have less blood flow as the blood is blocked from getting into the muscle. With the lack of adequate blood flow, we may even experience a lactic acid build up which may cause a burning sensation.
Force is the second risk factor that contributes to us developing an MSD as well. Force is defined as the amount of work or effort exerted by muscles such as lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing, pulling, or gripping. In childcare this may look like bending down to pick up a child or moving and cleaning toys or furniture.
Lastly, repetitive tasks can put us at a higher risk of developing an MSD. Repetition is when we are doing similar exertions, actions, or tasks performed in a specified amount of time. Generally, our upper extremities are at a higher risk for repetitive injury.
Where do we see MSD in Childcare?
Childcare workers perform a number of tasks that may be physically demanding with potential for these three MSD risk factors. Examples may include:
- Lifting and carrying children
- Pushing and pulling strollers
- Carrying diapers, garbage bags, and food
- Moving and cleaning furniture and play equipment
- Caregiving activities
What can we do to prevent MSD?
In order to reduce our exposure to those three risk factors (awkward posture, force, repetition) try to find ways to reduce lifting and bending. This may include kneeling down the level of the child when comforting or talking to the child, avoiding bending or hunching over when cleaning toys, and bending from our knees. Training on proper lifting techniques can also help us to keep our back straight to protect us when we may be lifting a child, furniture, or other objects.
Other prevention methods we can do, are to take stretch and movement breaks, job rotation into caring for older children, purchase appropriately sized furniture, redesign storage areas to have heavier materials at waist level, using carts and lifting aids where possible, and sitting against a wall or furniture for back support when working on the floor (1).
In summary, in childcare workers, there is a high prevalence of MSD based on the type of work that we’re doing. With an understanding of our primary risk factors, how MSD can develop and incorporate suggested control methods, MSD does not have to be accepted as part of our job as they can be prevented!
- Occupational Health and Safety Hazards in Child Care Work. UMass. (2016) https://www.uml.edu/research/cph-new/news/emerging-topics/issue45.aspx
- Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario [OSHCO], 2007