A physical demands description of paramedic work in Canada

Brendan Coffey, Renee MacPhee, Doug Socha, Stephen L. Fischer


Paramedics perform physically demanding job tasks related to patient care and transport; however, no data exists describing the physical demands exposure profile for a shift. The purpose of this research was to address this knowledge gap by characterizing the physical demands of paramedic work by gathering data from seven different services across Canada. Further, this investigation was extended to compare physical demand exposure frequencies between High-Populous (HP) and Low-Populous (LP) paramedic services. Using a participatory model, two paramedics from each of the seven services were trained how to conduct a physical demands description (PDD). Each trained paramedic observer then conducted PDDs while completing two ride-outs each, where they observed and recorded the physical demand exposures of their colleagues. Results support the belief that paramedics are routinely exposed to physical demands such as lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing, and pulling. In fact, attending paramedics identified stretcher loading and unloading (25.6% of respondents), carrying equipment (19.5%), and pushing and pulling the stretcher (13.4%) as the most physically demanding tasks. When considering differences in task frequency between services, the empty stretcher was loaded and unloaded more frequently in HP services (10.0 ± 4.1) than in LP services (5.6 ± 3.4). Additionally, medication bags were handled more frequently in HP services (21.4 ± 7.5) than in LP services (5.1 ± 3.6). These data confirm that paramedic work is a mix of prolonged sedentary time (on alert waiting for a call), interspersed with bouts of high physical demand exposures (when attending to a call).