Study Shows 'Participatory Ergonomics' Aids Informal Caregivers

The participatory approach helped all parties increase their safe work practices in homes and better understand the relationships among the patient, environment, and task.

A study posted this month from the Open Occupational Health and Safety Journal, published by Bentham Open, provides validation for the concept of participatory ergonomics in helping informal caregivers ease their tasks when assisting elderly adults with movements and daily tasks. The paper “Experiences from a Participatory Ergonomics Project Among Home Care Personnel, Informal Carers and Unit Leaders in a Swedish Municipality” explains how the process worked in a small city in northern Sweden with home care personnel and informal caregivers.

Ingegerd Skoglind-Öhman of Work Sciences, Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, at the University of Oulu, Finland, conducted the study to determine whether a participative approach inspired by action research would be productive, and it was. Observations in real-world work situations in care receivers’ homes environment, questionnaires, and interviews among home care staffers, collaborating professionals, and informal caregivers provided the data.

About 250 people older than 65 receive home care assistance in the city from an organization with about 60 employees working during the day and six more working at night. During the study from 2007 through 2010, an occupational therapist served as a rehabilitative resource directly within the home care service units.

"Participatory ergonomics" involves the use of participative techniques and various forms of participation in a workplace to improve working conditions, production, and/or quality. In this case, the goal was to foster safe patient handling practices for those receiving care and those assisting them.

The study showed the participatory approach helped all parties increase their safe work practices in homes and better understand the relationships among the patient, environment, and task. "It is essential to consider the possibilities for active participation for all involved in the actual, daily life situation," the author concluded. "A foundation for a qualitative, meaningful and secure daily life is built on active collaboration between care receiver, and assistive person, with support by ergonomics and rehabilitative facilitator. Participation is essential regardless if the assistant is employed personnel or an informal carer, and regardless if the matter concerns movement and transfers or personal care."

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