From late 1993 to early 1995 the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit carried out formative and outcome/impact evaluation for a programme to reduce back injuries among nursing staff.
This project, organised by the NZ Council of Trade Unions as part of its Workplace Health and Safety programme and funded by the Accident Compensation Corporation, was based in a public health sector rehabilitation unit for severely physically handicapped people in Auckland, which has a workforce of 120. Using an Australian model of injury prevention, the project coordinator set up workplace Risk Assessment Teams to identify, assess and control risks of back injury in consultation with staff members.
Formative evaluation activities included regular consultative meetings with the project coordinator throughout the project's planning, pre-intervention and intervention phases. Part of an environmental audit was also undertaken by interviewing the unit's management and staff about their perceptions of whether back injury was a problem in their particular work, whether they felt there was a need for a prevention project and what they thought would be an effective form for such a project. Other evaluation activities included a follow-up interview audit of management and staff, and the Risk Assessment Team, to provide comparison data to assess any changes in attitudes or work systems. This information was fed back into the project to aide further development. Modifications included the purchase of more ergonomic lifting equipment, better sign-posting for wet areas, trials of non-slip flooring material. The work of the Risk Assessment Team meant environmental hazards were identified more clearly and acted upon more quickly than in the past, and a hazards register was established.
The outcome/impact evaluation noted the shortness of the period over which the project had been fully implemented: the second six months of 1994. There had therefore been insufficient time for any effect on the prevalence of work-related back injury/pain to be shown. However, the project had prepared the foundations for the reduction of back pain in the rehabilitation unit's workforce by creating the Risk Assessment Team, raising staff awareness of the problem of back injury or pain and establishing a process for the identification, documentation and elimination of hazards. It had helped to lift 'the burden of blame' for back injuries from the individual worker and hence make staff more likely to be involved in the process of eliminating environmental hazards. It was recommended that the project be extended. Three formative evaluation reports (Peach & Casswell, 1994a; 1994b; 1995a) and one outcome/impact evaluation report (Peach & Casswell, 1995b) were written during the course of the project.
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