AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Paraprofessionals

Paraprofessionals are highly vulnerable to strains and sprains. Paraprofessionals spend hours on their feet, often bending over the work of small children at tables, desks and computer stations. They also may carry heavy supplies, books and equipment.

The problems are even more pronounced in special education settings where paraprofessionals may have to:

  • Lift and handle children in wheelchairs.
  • Diaper children with disabilities on the floor or on nonadjustable tables.
  • Toilet children with disabilities.
  • Transfer children with disabilities to and from buses.
  • Cope with children whose behavior can be unpredictable and aggressive.

Several common work-related musculoskeletal conditions can be associated with the work of paraprofessionals, including:

  • Chronic lower back pain
  • Shoulder and neck strain
  • Tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons) in the arms
  • Herniated disks ("slipped"disks)
  • Varicose veins
  • Leg and hip pains (shooting from the lower back).

Exercise provides some protection for people whose work may cause muscle strain. Walking and other aerobic exercises improve circulation to the back muscles and disks. Consider starting a "walking club" for lunchtime or after-school walks. Stretching and strength exercises also are beneficial. Consult your physician about the best exercise program for you.

HEALTHY HINTS FOR PARAPROFESSIONALS

Regular Classroom Setting

  • Sit with students at tables and desks instead of bending over them.
  • Alternate between sitting and standing to reduce the strain on the back.
  • Monitor computer work by sitting next to students instead of standing over them.
  • Avoid carrying heavy loads of materials. Hold materials as close to the body as possible.
  • Store heavy books and materials on shelves at waist level.

Special Education Setting

  • Use a walking belt with handles on students who must be transferred or lifted to and from wheel chairs. The handles on these belts help you get a safe and secure grip on the student. They also help avoid "under the armpit" lifts (axial lifts) which strain your back and can be very painful for the student.
  • When handling a student, try to keep the weight of the student close to your body.
  • Get help when lifting and handling children. Don't attempt to lift children who weigh more than 70 pounds who can't support some of their weight without assistance.
  • Diaper children on tables that are high enough to allow you to stand erect. Avoid diapering on the floor. Lowering and lifting the weight of a child to and from the floor places a huge amount of stress on the back.
  • Avoid carrying heavy chairs or equipment without assistance.

 

The AFT-PSRP Department can provide further information on ergonomics and preventive programs through the AFT-PSRP Occupational Safety and Health Program at (800) 238-1133, extension 5674.