Folding and unfolding manual wheelchairs: an ergonomic evaluation of health-care workers

Appl Ergon. 2003 Nov;34(6):571-9. doi: 10.1016/S0003-6870(03)00079-6.


The objective of this study was to test the hypotheses (i) that health-care workers vary greatly in the methods used to fold and unfold selected manual wheelchairs, and (ii) that many of the methods used include bent and twisted back postures that are known to be associated with a high risk of injury. We studied 20 health-care workers in a rehabilitation center. Subjects folded and unfolded two wheelchairs of cross-brace design, one with and one without a sling seat. As outcome measures, we used a questionnaire, time taken, visual analog scales of perceived exertion and back strain, folded width, videotape and Ovako Working Posture Analysis System (OWAS) back scores (1-4). Subjects used up to 14 different combinations of approach, hand placement and back posture to accomplish the tasks. The mean OWAS scores were in the 2.4-3.1 range and 49 (42%) of the 118 scores recorded were class 4 (back simultaneously "bent and twisted", considered to be associated with the highest risk of injury). We also observed methods that appeared to be safe and effective. Age, gender, profession, experience and seat condition did not generally influence the outcome measures. We conclude that health-care workers use a variety of methods to fold and unfold wheelchairs, many of which include bent and twisted back postures that may carry a risk of injury. Further study is needed to confirm this risk, to identify more ergonomically sound wheelchair designs and to develop better methods of carrying out the common and important task of folding and unfolding wheelchairs.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Female
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / prevention & control*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Posture
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Wheelchairs*