The value of participatory ergonomics in reducing work-related pain in sonographers

Kristie Sweeney, Bathurst Health Service Medical Imaging NSW Health


Work-related musculoskeletal disease (WMSD) has a high prevalence in sonographers globally. In the Western New South Wales Local Health District, Australia (WNSWLHD), which has a geographical area of 246,676 square kilometres (similar to the size of Britain), sonographers reported a musculoskeletal pain prevalence of 95%. Sonographers in five departments across the district collaborated to identify high-risk practices in the workplace and implement potential solutions.


The aim of this study was to compare the prevalence of WMSD in a cohort of sonographers before and after implementation of ergonomic changes that were driven by recommendations from the sonographers themselves, using a participatory ergonomics approach.


This observational mixed-methods study analysed the impact of ergonomic changes on musculoskeletal pain in a small cohort of sonographers employed within the WNSWLHD. Ergonomic changes were made in five workplaces based on identified risks. Pre- and post-intervention musculoskeletal pain surveys were completed by 10 sonographers over a period of 18 months, and short interviews were conducted to ascertain their perception of the changes in their musculoskeletal pain.


Several interventions including job rotation, installation of patient monitors and use of ergonomic scanning techniques were perceived responsible for reported decreases in musculoskeletal pain in the right shoulder and the neck. No interventions were believed responsible for reported increases in pain in the wrists. This was attributed to several work practices including increasing workload and scanning immobile and obese patients.


The use of participatory ergonomics was a valuable process to identify high-risk work practices and possible solutions. Use of ergonomic scanning techniques is a change which sonographers can implement individually, whereas job rotation and installation of patient monitors would require management support. Participatory ergonomics should be utilised to create a safer work environment for sonographers.

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