Wai Ting Joycelyn Chui

Project title: Exposure Assessment for Early Childhood Education (ECE) Workers

Degree: MPH | Program: Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) | Project type: Thesis/Dissertation
Completed in: 2022 | Faculty advisor: Noah S. Seixas


Background: There are a little under a million U.S. early childhood education (ECE) workers in 2020, and the ergonomic risk factors pertinent in this workforce is understudied. The purpose of the study was to conduct detailed worksite observations to comprehensively describe prevalence, durations, and frequencies of workplace exposures.

Method: The study team developed a 29-item observation tool to systemically characterize the duration and frequency of four behavior classes (situation, behavior, point hazard, modifier). A ‘situation’ (e.g., meal time) was defined as the general activity that the ECE worker was engaged in at the time of observation. A ‘behavior’ (e.g., bent over) was defined as a posture or position that could expose workers to strains on selected body parts. Situations and behaviors are mutually exclusive and exhaustive as one cannot partake in more than one situation or posture at a time. ‘Point hazards’ (e.g., lift child) are momentary, rapid motions that can cause body strains and safety hazards registered as incidents. ‘Modifiers’ (e.g., carry/hold neutral) were used to refine a behavior or point hazard, therefore ‘modifiers’ must be associated with a behavior or point hazard. Sixty-four observations were conducted at 8 selected ECE centers across Washington state in summer 2021. Descriptive analyses described observed exposures. Bivariate analysis and multiple linear regressions were used to analyze the relationship between center- and classroom-level variables and four ergonomic exposures.

Findings: Children’s age appears to be a key contributor to the ergonomic exposures ECE workers experience due to children reaching different developmental stages and levels of mobility. Providers were observed to spend an estimated half a workday walking and standing and one-third of the time in sedentary postures on average. The three most prevalent instantaneous movements are rapid torso bending/twisting, lift child, and lift object. Workers caring for toddlers were estimated to lift, on average, about a total of 2,000 lbs in a workday, lifting is considered a ‘hazardous’ risk to ECE providers at the observed lifting frequency and weight.

Conclusion: Results did not only add to the limited body of research, but also underscored the gap in applicable ergonomic guidelines to the ECE workforce. Results from this study could improve the health, safety, and working conditions of ECE providers.

URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1773/48968