A recent article in the National Post highlighted the back and shoulder MSD hazards associated with barista work. The article highlighted a study from Wilfrid Laurier University, which showed that baristas have high rates of back and shoulder pain. The researchers did a great job of collecting survey, postural, and force data, and showing that the loads on the back and the shoulder were high. They focused in on making espresso-based drinks, citing the “manual tamping” process as a particular problem. (Dainty, S., Alcorn, E, Ferguson, C., and D. Gregory. 2014.Prevalence of occupation-related pain among baristas and an examination of low back and shoulder demand during the preparation of espresso based beverages. Ergonomics)

OK, so there’s an issue….let’s work toward solutions! Automatic tamping systems are available, but not all shops are prepared to go that route. Changing working heights, improving the tamping tool, or adjusting the angle that the barista has to push, could have a significant impact, until such time as automatic tamping becomes feasible. An ergonomist could help to research and evaluate alternatives and provide solutions that would work in a specific environment.

Like many other professionals, I have a hard time “flipping the switch” when I leave work. I can’t ignore ergo issues in public workplaces.  I feel guilty every time someone has to reach across a counter or through a window to hand me a take out order. And don’t get me started about gathering grocery carts in a snow-filled parking lot…

We’ve come a long way in the past 25 years. Now people at least recognise that bending, reaching, and pushing don’t have to be “part of the job”. But we still have far to go…..

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