Veterinary doctors are among the most vulnerable to back problems. They should get their postures right, it is advised.
Pregnancy testing cows, foot trimming and animal surgery are all back-aching jobs that mean veterinarians are more likely to suffer aches and pains. An Australian study of 867 vets found 96 per cent had musculoskeletal discomfort.
More than two-thirds (67 per cent) say it had affected their daily work and nearly one in five (18 per cent) had taken time off work in the previous year. Trouble spots were the lower back, followed by discomfort in the neck and shoulders and wrists and hands.
The study by Hawke's Bay District Heath Board health and safety manager Andrew Scuffham is part of a research project for a master of ergonomics degree.
Mr Scuffham sent a questionnaire to 2112 registered vets and received a 41 per cent response rate. Respondents identified a range of activities, such as lifting, surgery and animal examinations, as the cause of their discomfort.
He says epidemiological data also implicates psychosocial issues, such as working at high speed, to tight deadlines, inability to vary pace of work, and organisational culture. "Working out if psychosocial issues are a cause or a consequence of musculoskeletal discomfort will be the topic of further investigations."
Mr Scuffham, a former health and safety adviser at Massey's Manawatu campus, is being supervised by Professor Stephen Legg from the University's Centre for Ergonomics, Occupational Safety and Health and Professor Elwyn Firth and Professor Mark Stevenson from the Institute of Veterinary, Biological and Animal Sciences.
Professor Legg says that the research, funded by the Department of Labour, paves the way for future initiatives to improve health and safety outcomes for vets. "Studies have shown that dentists and nurses have higher levels of musculoskeletal discomfort than the general population," he says. "The present study suggests veterinarians have significantly greater problems than members of these professions."
Solutions such as more training in lifting techniques and posture and better use of adjustable height tables and chairs were suggested by the respondents, but the researchers say such training is often ineffective because people revert to habits. "We need to use what is called 'participatory ergonomics', which, in short, means getting veterinarians themselves involved in developing solutions," says Professor Legg.
The findings have recently been published in the New Zealand Veterinary Association magazine Vetscript.