Ergonomics and the Child Care Environment

Did you know your employees could be 20 to 40 percent more productive - not to mention healthier and happier on the job -- without extensive retraining or exorbitant costs? It's true! The secret is properly applied ergonomics. This is a must-read article for anyone working in an early child care environment.

Ergonomics is a way of designing the job, equipment, tools and tasks to fit the worker and help avoid injuries. Ergonomics covers all physical aspects of a job:

  • biomechanical, including stress on muscles, nerves, bones and joints
  • sensory, including hearing and vision
  • environmental, including lighting, noise, temperature and humidity

The most common ergonomic disorders seen in those who work with young children are:

  1. back injuries
  2. chronic back pain
  3. tendonitis
  4. carpal tunnel syndrome
  5. sick building syndrome

It is estimated that ergonomically healthy employees are 20 to 40 percent more productive. You can help your employees avoid injuries by training each person on how to properly perform the physical tasks of their job and to modify work habits where needed. The following chart will help you better analyze how your work environment supports each employee's tasks in working with young children.

Ergonomic Analysis of the Child Care Work Environment

Problem Recommendations
  • Incorrect lifting of children, toys, supplies, equipment, etc.
  • Educate on proper lifting and carrying techniques.
  • Promote job rotation where possible.
  • Encourage independence in children whenever feasible.
  • Inadequate work heights (e.g. child-size tables and chairs)
  • Find a chair that will allow employees to slide their legs under the table.
  • Use sit/kneel chairs.
  • Educate staff on proper body mechanics.
  • Provide the staff with adult-size chairs for occasional use.
  • Difficulty lowering and lifting infants in and out of cribs
  • Modify crib sides to slide down or modify the crib legs to accommodate the staff.
  • Educate staff on the proper use of body mechanics.
  • Frequent sitting on the floor with back unsupported
  • When possible, have staff sit against a wall or furniture for back support.
  • Perform stretching exercises.
  • Educate staff on proper body mechanics.
  • Excessive reaching above shoulder height to obtain stored supplies
  • Redesign kitchen area, placing heaviest items at waist height.
  • Reorganize snacks and supplies to simplify snack preparation procedures.
  • Utilize step stools when retrieving items above cupboard height.
  • Frequent lifting of infants and toddlers on and off diaper-changing tables
  • Educate staff on proper body mechanics.
  • Have toddlers use steps in order to decrease distance staff members have to lift the children.
  • Forceful motions combined with awkward posture required to open windows
  • Use step stool to allow for better leverage and reduce awkward posture.
  • Have maintenance staff improve quality of window slide.
  • Carrying garbage and diaper bags to dumpster
  • Provide staff with cart to transport garbage.
  • Relocate garbage cart closer to work area.
  • Reduce size and weight of loads.
  • Educate staff on proper body mechanics.

Source: King P., Gratz R., Scheuer G., Claffey A. The ergonomics of child care: conducting worksite analyses. WORK 1996; 6:25-32.