Occupational Health and Ergonomics Education
Competencies in Occupational Health Physiotherapy Practice: Guidelines from countries with established programmes
Please feel free to share guidelines from your country
Physical therapists specialized in occupational health and ergonomics
Being a physical therapist specialized in occupational health and ergonomics means being interested in and qualified for work with promoting a sustainable working life. This includes health promotion; prevention of work-related injuries and diseases; and medical and vocational rehabilitation to support a return to work. Much attention is on work related musculoskeletal disorders, but today work-related mental health questions also are high on the agenda.
This specialization differs in an important way from most other specializations: we do not only focus on the individual patient, we have much attention on the surrounding system. In occupational health we often talk about human,technology and organizational perspectives. This means that we do examinations, assessments and screening of the work environment, work organization and work tasks. Interventions can be directed to the individual, the working group or the work organization.
Physical therapists specialized in occupational health and ergonomics work with noncommunicable diseases and use the work place as an arena to support sound living habits. We direct interventions to the individual to support behavioral changes, but also to the surrounding work environment and work organization to provide an environment that encourage the employees to make healthy choices.
The Sherbrook Model is widely used all over the world and provides a foundation for work health questions and how different assessments and interventions can be directed.
Figure 1. The Sherbrook Model.
How can I become a physical therapist specialized in occupational health and ergonomics?
There is no global consensus on what education and competence that is needed to be a physical therapist specialized in occupational health and ergonomics. The length in the undergraduate program for physical therapists vary all over the world. Some programs encompass occupational health and ergonomics, but this can differ, not only between countries but also within the same country. Masters ‘programs are available at different Universities and can often approve international students.
There are also possibilities to participate in shorter educations. One example is NIVA- Nordic Institute of Advanced training in occupational health, that provides a variety of education programs focusing on working life from different perspectives. These courses are available for an international audience. https://niva.org/
A physical therapist specialized in occupational health and ergonomics needs competence that include knowledge, skills and values and attitudes.
The physiotherapist specialized in occupational health and ergonomics needs knowledge about:
Work related health in general, including health promotion, prevention and rehabilitation to support a sustainable working life,
the relationship between human-technology-organization and the surrounding society´s impact on working life
relevant legislation, guidelines and policies for work environment and insurance medicine
reliable assessment and screening methods of the work environment and work ability
health economy in relation to interventions
The physiotherapist specialized in occupational health and ergonomics needs skills to:
support the management and work organization to provide a healthy work environment
conduct qualified assessments and analyses of work-related musculoskeletal disorders on individual, group and organizational level and to support the employer in the implementation of work place adjustments
do basic assessments and analyses of the physical, organizational and psychosocial work environment,
do qualified assessment of employee’s health, function, living habits and work ability and to provide relevant interventions,
complete education in the field of work health, directed to working groups and work organizations,
collaborate with other professionals, employers, authorities.
Values and attitudes
The physiotherapist specialized in occupational health and ergonomics needs to be aware of and have reflected on:
how to practice a professional attitude to individuals, groups and organizations and relevant authorities and stakeholders.
By Kjerstin Stigmar, February 2020