Massage therapy is a vital service that delivers much-needed physical therapy to patients who may be in severe pain or who are suffering from stress. There’s the gentle touch of Swedish massage, the intensity of deep tissue massage, and the rehabilitative science of sports massage to name but a few. However, regardless of the types of massage your practice may offer, there are certain standards that massage therapists must maintain.
This includes a variety of obligations to clients, including but not limited to, providing a safe and comfortable space that is accessible to all. But while ensuring patient comfort and safety are critical parts of building a respected and trusted practice, the comfort and safety of massage therapists themselves can often be forgotten.
This can pose a significant issue for therapists, with close proximity to clients and the physical demands of the job potentially leading to work-related issues that can negatively affect health and wellbeing. However, with the right understanding, awareness, and training, you can build a practice that balances your clients’ needs with those of your staff to ensure that all stakeholders are looked after.
So, to help you and your practice improve the wellbeing of massage therapists, we will explore the types of workplace hazards they face, the issues around working alone, and how you can create a safe environment by addressing potential hazards. Read on to learn more.
Understanding Workplace Hazards
Since massage therapists work in close contact with other humans, they face a range of safety risks that are intrinsically linked to their working conditions. These can be broadly categorized as ergonomic, biological, chemical, and psychological, with each presenting its own set of challenges and potential impacts on the wellbeing of therapists. Below, we explore each in more detail.
· Ergonomic Hazards
Massage therapists often face ergonomic hazards due to the repetitive nature of their work. Prolonged periods of standing, bending, or crouching, alongside improper body mechanics can lead to musculoskeletal issues such as back pain.
· Biological Hazards
Close physical contact between massage therapists and clients introduces the potential for biological hazards to negatively affect both parties. This may include the risk of infections and exposure to bodily fluids, as well as allergies and other conditions.
· Chemical Hazards
The use of lotions, oils, and various massage products is a standard practice in massage therapy, contributing to a soothing and enjoyable experience for clients. However, it also introduces chemical hazards into the workplace that demand careful consideration and management.
· Psychological Hazards
Massage therapists may encounter psychological hazards related to client behavior or the emotional nature of the work. At the extreme end of the spectrum, they can include sexual harassment, victimization, and workplace violence.
The hazards listed above are part and parcel of the job, however, mitigating their potential impact and building a safer working environment should be a priority for any practice. This begins with clear and transparent client communication that sets boundaries and establishes expectations as part of your overall health and safety policy.
During the intake of new clients, gathering information about medical background, any existing health conditions, or potential contraindications, massage therapists can tailor their approach to address specific concerns or adapt techniques to accommodate individual needs. In addition, practitioners should take the opportunity to educate clients about the massage process, discussing what to expect during a session, potential sensations they might experience, and the benefits of various techniques.
Finally, to ensure mutual understanding and legal compliance, the intake procedure should include obtaining informed consent, alongside a risk assessment that includes a right of refusal for therapists. At this point, any inappropriate or suspicious behavior from clients can also be red flagged early on, with ongoing updates allowing for detailed documentation of any issues and clear communication of professional boundaries.
Taken together, these important early steps can help build safer and more inclusive practices that set expectations and improve safety, reducing the risks of biological, chemical, and psychological hazards.
Considerations for Working Alone
Another significant consideration we hear from massage therapists is the fact that, more often than not, they will work with clients on a one-to-one basis. Lone working exposes staff them to a range of risks including:
- Health & safety hazards.
- Limited access to first aid.
- Violence and aggression from clients or other employees.
- Emergency response challenges.
- Mental health concerns related to these risks.
To combat these issues, massage therapy practices should create specific safety plans and integrate technological solutions that work to mitigate the inherent risks of lone working. A check-in system between staff and managers should be your first priority, with a list of emergency contacts that is easily accessible provided to support it.
Addressing Other Workplace Hazards in Your Practice
The above factors should be the foundation of your health and safety plan, however, other industry specific challenges must also be included to ensure staff are supported on a day-to-day basis. Below, we look at some of the considerations you need to factor into a comprehensive and effective health and safety plan.
Self-Care and Stress Management
Stress can be a silent killer in any role and, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), more than 50% of US workers have reported experiencing workplace stress that impacts their lives at home. This issue can also be compounded by lone working, and your practice should look to include the following to mitigate stress-related issues:
- Scheduled Breaks — Include breaks between sessions for therapists to rest and recharge.
- Balanced Workload — Encourage therapists to avoid overcommitting to clients to maintain a balanced workload.
- Continuing Education — Invest in ongoing education to ensure staff are informed about self-care techniques and stress management strategies.
Sanitation and Hygiene
Maintaining a clean and hygienic workspace is essential for the health and safety of both therapists and clients. Within massage practices, this means extra care needs to be taken to ensure comprehensive protection. Consider the following elements:
- Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) — Ensure staff are provided with gloves, masks, and aprons to protect against potential pathogens. Encourage them to use them where possible.
- Follow Disinfecting Protocols — Regular disinfection of surfaces, massage tables, and equipment should be factored into the working day to prevent the spread of infections.
- Look at Personal Hygiene Habits — Prioritize personal hygiene, including proper handwashing and grooming practices.
Ergonomics and Body Mechanics
The nature of massage therapy means that staff may well be in unnatural body positions for large portions of the day. To mitigate injuries in this area you should:
- Use Ergonomic Massage Tables — Ensure your practice invests in high-quality tables that allow for proper body alignment to reduce strain.
- Factor in Regular Breaks — Short breaks to stretch and rest muscles during long sessions or shifts should be factored into the working day.
- Encourage Good Posture — Be conscious of posture while working to prevent chronic pain and injuries.
Environment and Equipment Safety
In addition, workplace injuries can be reduced by ensuring your practice includes the following:
- Adequate Lighting — Ensure lighting is sufficient to prevent trip hazards and create a comfortable atmosphere.
- Scheduled Maintenance — Regularly inspect and maintain massage tables and equipment to prevent malfunctions.
- Emergency Preparedness — Create and regularly update a well-defined plan for emergencies, including the location of first aid kits and emergency exits.
- Safe Products — Look for hypoallergenic and natural products to minimize the risk of skin reactions.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
Finally, massage therapy practices should always weigh up the legal and ethical considerations of the wider industry. Consider the following elements as part of your health and safety plan:
- Liability Insurance — Obtain liability insurance to protect against potential legal claims.
- Compliance with Regulations — Stay informed about and comply with local, state, and federal regulations regarding massage therapy.
- Informed Consent — Clearly communicate the risks and benefits of massage therapy to clients and obtain their informed consent.
How to Handle Unwanted Behavior When Customers Cross the Line
Massage therapists have the fundamental right to work in an environment free of sexual abuse and harassment. In instances where such violations occur, it is crucial for therapists to prioritize their safety, remove themselves from the situation, and take necessary steps to report the abuser.
A key aspect of maintaining a professional and safe environment is the ability to confront inappropriate behavior effectively. Therapists should immediately communicate their discomfort and request the offending client to leave. This may involve halting the massage, explaining the reason from a safe distance, and informing a supervisor or law enforcement if the situation warrants it.
An effective communication model for dealing with unclear or boundary-crossing client behavior involves several steps. Initially, therapists should stop the treatment while maintaining assertive body language and verbal communication. Ensuring the client is properly draped can establish a literal boundary and stop any potential cause of inappropriate arousal.
Another technique is to objectively describe the client’s behavior, allowing the therapist to acknowledge the issue without passing judgment. This is followed by directly asking the client to clarify their intent, ensuring that the therapist does not make assumptions or accept ambiguous responses.
Sometimes, clients might experience unexpected emotional or physiological reactions. In such cases, therapists can provide information to help the client understand these responses, emphasizing that the treatment’s intent is strictly therapeutic and non-sexual.
The decision to continue or discontinue the session depends on the client’s intent and behavior. In cases of sexual intent or inappropriate behavior, therapists should feel empowered to terminate the session immediately. Setting conditions for the session’s continuation may be necessary if the client’s intent remains unclear.
Finally, documenting the incident is a vital step for maintaining professional ethics. This documentation, along with seeking supervision or peer support, is essential in the event of any future complaints, demonstrating the therapist’s commitment to ethical practice and a safe working environment.
In addition to implementing the techniques above, implementing a wireless attention buttons solution can provide you and your practice a vital lifeline to help in extreme cases. Making customers aware of the system through signage or other means has been proven to deter those types of incidents from happening in the first place. They also provide a dual benefit in providing customers with a way to get attention if they feel uncomfortable, as well as expediting response time if they should fall off the table or have a medical emergency. This gives all parties involved peace of mind that help is never far away.
Massage therapy can be a rewarding career for anyone wishing to work within the healthcare industry, providing real relief for clients who may have suffered workplace injuries, who struggle with ongoing back pain, or who seek holistic approaches to managing stress and enhancing overall wellbeing. However, as with any role that requires lone working within close proximity to the general public, health and safety must be a core consideration that extends to the wellbeing of employees.
To do this, your practice should aim to understand and address the various hazards, maintain effective client communication, introduce panic buttons and emergency procedures for lone workers while also maintaining high levels of hygiene and equipment safety. Together, this approach will allow you to build an inclusive work environment that actively cares for all stakeholders.
For more information on panic button solutions within the healthcare industry, contact ROAR today.