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Aches, pains just part of the job

Study shows heavy lifting, long surgeries and exams making DVMs wince
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Jul 01, 2009

Hawkes Bay, New Zealand — If you think your job is a pain in the neck, you're not alone.


Back-breaking work: DVMs with back pain won't find easy solution. (PHOTO: PHOTOALTO/ALIX MINDE/GETTY IMAGES)
More than 800 New Zealand veterinarians are reporting pains in other body parts, too — the lower back, shoulders, wrists and hands, according to a recently published study.

Andrew Scuffham, health and safety manager for New Zealand's Hawkes Bay District Health Board, sent questionnaires to more than 2,000 registered veterinarians about musculoskeletal discomfort.

Of the 867 who responded, 96 percent indicated they experienced musculoskeletal pain as a result of lifting, surgery and animal examinations.

Sixty-seven percent said the pain affected their daily work, while 18 percent said they had taken time off of work in the previous year because of musculoskeletal pain.

The data also indicate that working too fast to meet tight deadlines could be a cause of some of the pain, according to Scuffham.

The study suggests that veterinarians have significantly greater problems with musculoskeletal pain than dentists and nurses, who already had been identified as being at higher risk than the general population, says Stephen Legg, professor at Massey University's Centre for Ergonomics, Occupational Safety and Health in Manawatu, New Zealand.

Legg, along with professors Elwyn Firth and Mark Stevenson of the Institute of Veterinary Animal and Biomedical Sciences, are supervising Scuffham on the project.

Training veterinarians to lift correctly and use better posture likely won't work because people revert to old habits, Legg says. "We need to use what is called 'participatory ergonomics,' which, in short, means getting veterinarians involved in developing solutions," he says.

The study was published in the New Zealand Veterinary Association's magazine, Vetscript.