A bad back, sore knees and a lost voice?

You must be a teacher or childcare professional!

Do you know a primary teacher or nursery nurse who has had a bad back or neck? Maybe it is easier to think of those who haven’t? Did you know that the highest risk factor for getting back pain is already having had it?

Prevention really should be the highest priority

As a physiotherapist specialising in paediatrics, occupational health and ergonomics in education, I often wonder why there is so little emphasis placed on the well-being and “healthy working environment” for education and childcare professionals.

Anecdotal and research evidence prove staff are frequently injured and suffer the effects of “cumulative strain” at work. This causes upset for individuals and absence which is both unsettling for children and costly for organisations.

The long term effects can be serious and carried into retirement. I know of 4 primary teachers personally who have had back surgery – in their 30’s. Why is this acceptable in education and childcare sectors when there is legislation to protect employees?
  • Is it because back, neck, knee, hip… pain are accepted as part of the job when working with young children?
  • Is it just overlooked or not considered seriously?
  • Is it because teachers feel they are “going to school” and not “going to work” where they should be protected?
  • Is it because it is an area difficult to address and things can’t change – adults will always work with young children in child-focussed environments?
  • Is it because employers and employees believe all funds should be “spent on the children”?

Perhaps it is because staff do not know they are being exposed daily  to cumulative strain injury?

Maybe it is a lack of time or just another thing to think about in an already over-stretched day?

Perhaps it is a combination of all?

Teachers are so committed to the children in their care, but because of the working in child-focused learning environment are at an increased risk of musculo-skeletal injury. For example – washing up in low sinks, lifting and moving equipment (sand trays, scooters, furniture, heavy bags of books etc), picking items up off the floor, bending over low tables, assisting hand washing and children with daily care needs, sitting on children’s chairs, working at low computers, writing on inappropriately positioned white boards, lifting and carrying children, helping them on/off climbing equipment, kneeling on the floor, bending down to dodge hanging wall displays…the list is endless and there is little time for rest.

How would an office employee respond if he/she were presented a child’s plastic chair as their “work chair”? Would they react, refuse, laugh? Would they feel valued? Would they know it could contribute to back and neck pain? I passionately believe staff are the most important resource a school / nursery has. Individuals should be respected, valued and invested in. As a mother, I also rely on teachers being fit for work as joint educators of my children, with the patience and consistency to guide and nurture them.

As a conscientious society, we strive for happy, healthy children – this is just as important for staff!

Professionally and morally, I believe in staff health and well-being, injury prevention, good practice and professional development. From working with schools, I also fully appreciate budget constraints and the necessity for practical, cost effective solutions.

For the past 12 months, I have been working with voice specialists (Leon Trayman and Gemma Boaden from Tempervox) to produce a DVD-based training resource which offers practical information and specialist advice on manual handling, back and voice care, specifically for all working in early years and primary settings. After weekends filming in schools and nurseries with 20-30 children at a time, our respect for staff is even higher!

BackChat – An Essential Guide to Manual Handling, Back and Voice Care for Education and Childcare Professionals, provides staff with the knowledge to enable them to be happier and healthier in the workplace. It helps avoid injury at work and absence.

Being CPD certified, it is perfect for staff training / inset days as it is 1-1.5 hours of training delivered by back and voice experts which schools/nurseries can run by themselves. As an extra advantage, the resource can be referred back to at any time and completed by new staff too. An internal self-assessment exercise, downloadable certificate and A3 “Points to Remember” display are also included.

I am so pleased with the result and am excited by the benefits offered from completing the “BackChat” training – for employers, individuals and pupils.

As always, I am grateful for your help in raising awareness about the importance of staff well-being and improving musculo-skeletal health in education and childcare professionals . I am always happy to listen to and help with any queries you may have. Please get in touch if I can help further lorna@jollyback.com. Best regards, Lorna

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