The AVMA Government Relations Division alerted the Council on Veterinary Service (CoVS) in 2001, that regulations concerning Ergonomics may be developed by government agencies and applied to veterinary medicine. The Executive Board approved an Ergonomics Task Force at its April 2002 meeting, as requested by the CoVS to review Ergonomics in veterinary practice and develop guidelines.
With regards to Ergonomics, "guidelines" are suggestions recommended for use, whereas "standards" or "regulations" are requirements that are imposed. Often times, if "guidelines" are in place, "standards" are not imposed, or the "guidelines" are adopted directly.
Despite the fact that there is no central database of ergonomic injuries pertaining to veterinary medicine, and their effect on veterinary practice, there is a strong belief that injuries adversely affect veterinary medicine professionally and economically. There is scientific evidence across many industries that jobs and tasks with various physical risk factors expose workers to preventable hazards that can cause or aggravate work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs).
After searching the available literature and programs concerning Ergonomics in October 2002, only 2 states had adopted Ergonomic Standards. Only one of those (Washington) has set specific guidelines based on the current scientific information available to date. The rationale of the Task Force, after reviewing available information, was to adopt guidelines consistent with the consensus of scientific and regulatory communities. Current standards are built on the well-established occupational safety and health principle of preventing injuries by identifying and reducing worker exposure to hazards. Industry estimates utilized by Washington State indicate that these ergonomics guidelines could prevent 40 percent of WMSD injuries and 50 percent of WMSD costs once all the elements of the guidelines are fully effective. These are average figures, and actual reductions will vary by workplace and by industry. Further, the Ergonomics Task Force and the Council on Veterinary Service believe that these guidelines outline a model which assures, to the extent feasible and on the basis of the best available evidence, that ergonomic injuries will be minimized, even if an employee has regular exposure to the hazards dealt with by these guidelines.
The Council strongly believes that ergonomics is an issue that will eventually impact our profession. The impact should be positive if appropriate guidelines are formulated by veterinarians for use by the veterinary profession. The impact could be negative if factions outside our profession formulate the guidelines and thereby set standards and regulations for our profession.
The risk factors include awkward postures; high hand force; highly repetitive motions; repeated impact; heavy, frequent, or awkward lifting; and moderate to high hand-arm vibration. The existence of one or more of these risk factors in a task constitutes what the Task Force and Council label as a "Caution Zone Task". Employers need to identify the tasks and address the risk factors.
Six key points to remember: