Rajashree Kotejoshyer, ScD, University of Connecticut Health Jennifer Garza, ScD, University of Connecticut Health Martin Cherniack, MD, MPH, University of Connecticut Health
This study investigates the prevalence of musculoskeletal health, chronic pain, physical and psychosocial work exposures, including violent incidents and individual health factors in a population of Correctional Officers (COs) at two time points (2013 and 2016).
Correctional Officers are exposed to high physical and mental health risks (Morse et al., 2011; Brower, 2013). Evidence suggests rapid decline in physical health of COs over time with high risk of chronic health problems (Cherniack et al., 2016; El Ghaziri et al., 2020). Occupational ergonomic exposures and assaults on officers are known to affect musculoskeletal health overtime. Preliminary studies on musculoskeletal health of officers have shown associations between lower extremity symptoms and work tenure (Warren et al.,2015). However, there is still a lack of understanding of how cumulative exposures, including injury and assaults, affect the musculoskeletal health of COs.
A group of 120 correctional officers from two facilities were followed at two time points with self-reported survey and physical assessments. Over 3 years from 2013 (T1) to 2016 (T2), changes in ergonomic and psychosocial exposures at work, musculoskeletal health outcomes and the related factors were examined. Demographics, physical and mental health status, chronic pain symptoms, workplace ergonomic exposures with intensity, psychosocial work factors, injury from assault/ violence, and ergonomic interventions were assessed by survey. Physical assessments of height, weight, waist circumference, and body fat percentage were obtained and examined as they are known risk factors for musculoskeletal health. Survey items that were scored were assessed for mean differences between the two times using paired sample t-tests. All analyses were adjusted for age, gender and work tenure of COs.
Demographics of participants at T1 were representative of the workforce with 73% male COs, an average age of 41 ? 8.8 years and tenure of 11 ? 6 years. Preliminary findings of musculoskeletal health prevalence had high chronic pain symptoms for low back (43% at T1 and 45% at T2), neck (37% at T1 and 33% at T2), and knee area (30% at T1 and 41% at T2). Clinical diagnosis of chronic recurrent low back pain disorder was reported in 18% at T1 and 14% at T2. Overall, for ergonomic exposures, average intensity of static and awkward posture occurring in the job was reported as 3 ?2 hours at both time points. CO?s reported rapid change in positions from static sitting/standing to intense physical activity occurring about 5 ? 3 times on an average day. Majority of COs perceived their work as moderately/quite a bit/ extremely stressful (63% at T1 and 68% at T2). CO?s ability to decide if they can sit, stand or move on the job improved over time (69% at T1 to 82% at T2 responding as Often/always). Perceived physical job demands (Mean change from T1 to T2 = -0.88, p<0.001) and psychological job demands (Mean change from T1 to T2 = -0.84, p<0.001) increased over time. Social support scores (2.6 of 4 at T2, mean change from T1 to T2 = 0.20? 0.62, p<0.01) and decision latitude scores (2.8 of 4 at T2, mean change from T1 to T2 = -0.09? 0.44, p<0.05) at work remained low at both times. Serious injuries in COs from workplace violence/assault affecting upper or lower extremities were reported by 11% of participants at T1 and 17% at T2. Average male waist circumference changed from 100 ? 13.8 at T1 to 102 ? 13.9 at T2 (p<0.01). Average bodyfat percentage changed from 26 ? 7.7 at T1 to 29 ? 7 at T2 (p<0.001). Average body mass index changed from 29.8 ? 4.7at T1 to 30.7 ? 4.9 at T2 (p<0.001)
Based on the preliminary observations, CO?s have a high risk for adverse musculoskeletal health outcomes regardless of gender. The observed intensity of 3- 5 hours of stressful ergonomics and frequent bursts from static to intense activity in this workforce is hazardous and calls for mitigation. CO?s reported low decision latitude at work characterized by restricted mobility and prolonged standing and static postures. Low supervisor and co-worker support reported by COs recalls risks associated with high demand and low control jobs. Overweight and obesity in this workforce carry known risks for musculoskeletal disorders. We did not observe any direct impact of the ergonomic programs provided in the facilities. More flexibility and resources at work to accommodate ergonomically healthy behaviors are warranted. Further exploration on the relationships with work factors will provide more guidance on musculoskeletal health improvements in this workforce.
Correctional environments pose high risk to musculoskeletal health of employees. It is important to address ergonomic issues and related individual health and work factors.