British sonographers move to stamp out occupational MSK injuries

The Society of Radiographers in the U.K. has published a guidance to help prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders, the most common work-related illness in Britain.

The Society of Radiographers in the U.K. has published a guidance to help prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders, the most common work-related illness in Britain.

Studies have repeatedly shown that radiographers and other healthcare professionals who carry out sonography examinations are at particularly high risk of suffering painful conditions affecting the back, shoulders, neck, and arms. These include tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tenosynovitis.

"Too many sonographers are being made ill by their work and, in some cases, have to retire because of disabling repetitive strain injuries," said Kim Sunley, the health and safety officer for the Society of Radiographers.

Increasing volumes of work and demanding work schedules within some organizations, exacerbated by staff shortages and the pressures of working in a target-driven environment, may have an impact on the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders among sonographers, according to the report.

The association between workload and symptoms has not been fully researched. However, available studies have indicated that factors such as workload, lack of rest breaks, and reduced recovery time have an impact on musculoskeletal symptoms.

The guidance document, "Prevention of work related musculoskeletal disorders in sonography," can be purchased from www.sor.org. A PDF version is available at no cost to society members.

The report recommends steps to prevent musculoskeletal disorders and provides a model risk-assessment policy, Sunley said. Prevention starts with a seven-point framework for employers to follow when implementing a risk-management program:

  • Understand the issues and commit to action

  • Create the right organizational environment

  • Assess the risk of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace

  • Reduce the risks of musculoskeletal disorders

  • Educate and inform

  • Manage any episodes of musculoskeletal disorders

  • Carry out regular checks on program effectiveness

In a case study example in the report, a hospital set up an assessment team to investigate the issues and undertake a detailed risk assessment. The assessment team consisted of the radiology business manager, the ultrasound superintendent, a sonographer/health and safety representative, an occupational health nurse, and a back care physiotherapist.

Risk assessment involves systematically looking at the work to identify the significant risks and determine the precautions needed to eliminate or control these risks. The report recommends examining:

  • work postures

  • ultrasound equipment, including adjustability of monitor and keyboard design

  • furniture, such as adjustable chairs, tables, and examination couches, for support and mobility

  • accessory equipment such as accessibility of gel and paper roll, and

  • job design - including scheduled breaks and whether they are actually taken - workload, and case mix.

When implementing risk control measures, facilities should have a clear policy for the reduction of musculoskeletal hazards endorsed at the board level, according to the report. They should consider the evaluation of the ergonomic design of ultrasound equipment and the use of voice-activated software to eliminate keyboard work.

CASE STUDY: EQUIPMENT PURCHASE

As part of a medical-equipment replacement program, three new machines were purchased by a facility. As part of the procurement process, manufacturers were informed of the need for the equipment to be ergonomically suitable. The machines were assessed using specific criteria. Several machines failed to obtain a good ergonomic rating. The two machines that did perform well were the most expensive of those assessed. The directorate put together a business case to purchase this more expensive equipment, justified on the basis of cost-benefit. The benefit of the ergonomic design, with its reduced risk of injury, far outweighed the additional added cost to purchase the equipment.

For more information about ergonomics and technologist safety from the Diagnostic Imaging archive:

Ergonomic work environment eases PACS reading strain

Consider ergonomics or incur hidden costs

Ultrasound's future in play: Will radiologists remain in the picture?