Take steps to avoid pharmacy work-related injuries


Assess ergonomics so employees are safe, comfortable and productive

In brief:

  • An ergonomic evaluation of pharmacy tasks was conducted by NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
  • This evaluation found multiple issues that can lead to employee injuries
  • Ergonomic solutions for pharmacists and technicians can be simple and inexpensive
  • Analyze your workplace and train employees so they can work safely and comfortably

Bend, stretch, push and ouch!

Watch your pharmacists and technicians work and you may see activities that can cause injuries. For example, employees may:

  • Reach high and low to retrieve items from shelves
  • Frequently remove child-resistant caps
  • Stand for long periods of time
  • Cradle a phone with their neck

These activities and more can lead to repetitive motion injuries and musculoskeletal disorders.

The good news: Minor adjustments can make a major impact in protecting workers.

That’s the conclusion of a pharmacy evaluation issued in 2018 by NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which is part of the CDC.1

This Health Hazard Evaluation was the first NIOSH has done on ergonomics in a pharmacy.

NIOSH findings of pharmacy ergonomics

  • Pharmacy staff did not use adjustability features available for some equipment.
  • Capping and uncapping medicine bottles required repetitive and forceful movements and awkward wrist positions.
  • There was observation of repetition, force, awkward wrist and shoulder postures, and reaching above shoulders for some tasks. These factors increase risk for injuries.

Issues and recommendations

Here are issues NIOSH identified, along with potential solutions:

Repetitive motion injuries. These are from actions such as capping and uncapping child-resistant bottles, which requires forceful movements and awkward wrist postures. Reduce or eliminate the work. Ideas include:

  • Medication synchronization and calling patients before filling prescriptions to reduce the number of prescriptions that are filled, not picked up, and must be restocked.
  • Ordering containers without child-resistant caps or replacing them in the pharmacy can reduce the amount of twisting.
Reaching and straining. Improperly adjusted computer stations and grabbing stock bottles and boxes of medication can strain employees’ shoulders and backs, causing injuries over time. Measure fixtures. NIOSH recommends:

  • Shelving at a height of 24–70 inches off the floor, with frequently retrieved items in the mid-range.
  • Touchscreens 22 inches from the user, with the top 47–71 inches above the floor if adjustable or 59 inches if fixed.
  • Other visual displays with the top 58–71 inches above the floor if adjustable or 66 inches if fixed. The viewing distance should be 18–30 inches if adjustable, 23 inches if fixed.
  • Hand working heights at 38–47 inches above the standing surface if adjustable, 42 inches if fixed.

Make work easier on every employee

Creating a safe and comfortable workspace requires ongoing attention.

  • Provide tools, such as phone headsets so employees aren’t cradling the headset with their neck, or a back brace for those who lift heavy boxes. Antifatigue floor mats at standing workstations can ease the stress on employees’ feet and knees.
    Note: In the NIOSH evaluation, pharmacy employees found that tools intended to make opening caps easier actually made the task more difficult. The lesson: Don’t assume a potential solution works. Ask for feedback from the staff.
  • Make adjustments part of the workflow. Train staff to adjust their workspace every time before beginning to work. A computer screen that is just right for a 6-foot technician is too high for a 5-foot pharmacist. And, an older worker may require more light.
  • Add variety. Alternate among tasks during the day to reduce the risk of injuries from repetitive motions and to decrease eye strain from staring at a computer screen.

Provide comfortable workstations, train employees on proper ergonomics, such as holding wrists in a neutral position when keyboarding, and encourage them to talk with you about concerns as they arise. Simply asking a co-worker for help when lifting heavy items can prevent a painful back injury.

Safeguarding your employees is good business, because when they are comfortable, they can avoid injury and will be more productive.

For additional tools and resources see:

  • Computer Workstation Checklist from the CDC and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Information on Good Working Positions from OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. An example is shown below and other information is on the OSHA website.

1Ergonomic Evaluation of Pharmacy Tasks,” Jessica G. Ramsey and Kristin Musolin, Health Hazard Evaluation Program, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, March 2018.