Introduction: In April 2020, novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) produced an ongoing mass fatality event in New York. This overwhelmed hospital morgues necessitating emergent expansion of capacity in the form of refrigerated trucks, trailers, and shipping containers referred to as body collection points (BCPs). The risks for musculoskeletal injury during routine and mass fatality mortuary operations and experiences of decedent handlers throughout the “first wave” of COVID-19 are presented along with mitigation strategies Methods: Awareness of the high rates of musculoskeletal injury among health care workers due to ergonomic exposures from patient handling, including heavy and repetitive manual lifting, prompted safety walkthroughs of mortuary operations at multiple hospitals within a health system in New York State by workforce safety specialists. Site visits sought to identify ergonomic exposures and ameliorate risk for injury associated with decedent handling by implementing engineering, work practice, and administrative controls. Results: Musculoskeletal exposures included manual lifting of decedents to high and low surfaces, non-neutral postures, maneuvering of heavy equipment, and push/pull forces associated with the transport of decedents Discussion: Risk mitigation strategies through participatory ergonomics, education on body mechanics, development of novel handling techniques implementing friction-reducing aides, procurement of specialized equipment, optimizing BCP design, and facilitation of communication between hospital and system-wide departments are presented along with lessons learned. After-action review of health system workers' compensation data found over four thousand lost workdays due to decedent handling related incidents, which illuminates the magnitude of musculoskeletal injury risk to decedent handlers.
- Musculoskeletal injury