Training Personal Support Workers to Prevent Back Injuries

Kamachi, Megan  1, 2  ;   Owlia, Mohammad  2, 3  ;   Ledda, Kevin  4  ;   Ng, Chloe  4  ;   Dutta, Tilak  2    

1.   Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, University of Toronto;    2.   Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, University Health Network;    3.   Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University Health Network;    4.   Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy, University of Toronto  

Background: Healthcare providers, specifically personal support workers (PSWs), frequently suffer from lower back injuries resulting from awkward postures and heavy loads required to perform daily tasks. PSWs assist older adults with activities such as toileting, bathing, and bed transfers. This study will investigate a new PSW training protocol to encourage long-term use of safe-lifting techniques. Currently, PSWs are taught skills to perform these tasks in a classroom setting with some hands-on exposure. In this study, training protocols using PostureCoach will be evaluated. PostureCoach is a wearable device that measures the user’s lower back spine flexion angle and provides an immediate gentle vibration when the angle is too large, which is when they are at a high risk of injury. The long-term retention of motor learning has been shown to be affected by the frequency of feedback given to a user performing a task. The objective of this project is to determine how frequently feedback from PostureCoach should be provided to users to promote the use of safer patterns of movement.

Methods: Forty PSWs will be recruited from Saint Elizabeth Healthcare Centre to participate in this study. Participants will wear the PostureCoach for an hour each day for five days while performing on-the-job tasks. They will be divided into three groups. Group 1 will receive constant (100%) feedback from PostureCoach for every session, group 2 will receive no (0%) feedback, and group 3 will follow a faded feedback protocol where the frequency of feedback will be progressively reduced over the five days. PostureCoach will measure and record back flexion angles during each session. Retention tests will be conducted one week and one month after the initial training week. The data will be analyzed to determine the short-term and long-term effects of each training protocol.

Expected Results: It is predicted that the group that receives faded feedback will demonstrate the least spine flexion one-month post-training and the group that receives 100% feedback will demonstrate the least spine flexion one-week post-training.

Significance: PSW training involving PostureCoach shows good potential for encouraging the long-term use of safe lifting techniques. PSWs who can maintain the use safe postures throughout their career will reduce their risk of lower back injury. This will decrease prevalence rates of back pain and lead to a higher quality of life for both PSWs and their patients.