Paramedic injuries could be reduced by powered stretchers


Thursday, 20 April, 2017


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Paramedics with access to powered stretchers are less like to be injured on the job, a new study has found.

Researchers from University of Waterloo in the US discovered that a shift from manual stretchers to those with a battery-powered hydraulic system and assisted ambulance loading could reduce musculoskeletal injuries by as much as 78%.

Data from the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board indicates the incidence rates among paramedics are nearly five times higher than rates in any other sector.

“In many cases, paramedics face spine compression that is well above the threshold limit. A manual stretcher alone can weigh nearly 100 pounds. Add on a 200-pound patient and a paramedic team is handling 300 pounds every time they raise, lower, lift or load the stretcher,” said Steven Fischer, assistant professor of kinesiology at University of Waterloo.

“We estimate that a paramedic is lifting more than 1700 pounds per shift on average, approximately the same weight as moving all of the furniture in a one-bedroom apartment.”

The study compared injury rates at Niagara Emergency Medical Service, which had implemented powered stretchers at the time of the study, with Hamilton Paramedic Services, which used manual stretchers.

One year after introducing powered stretchers, stretcher-related injuries among Niagara paramedics dropped from 20 injuries per 100 workers per year to 4.3. In Hamilton, injuries increased from 17.9 injuries per 100 workers to 24.6 over the same period.

Each unit can cost approximately of $40,000, and their availability varies among health regions in the US.

“Although the units may seem expensive, they appear to offer a significant return on investment,” said Daniel Armstrong, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in the Department of Kinesiology.

“We found that the added cost to purchase power stretchers and load systems would be recovered within their expected seven-year service life due to the reduction in injury-related costs.”

The study was published in Applied Ergonomics.

Image credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Scott Kochsiek

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