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RMIT’s Innovations in Healthcare

Image Credits: RMIT, Press Release
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The Safety Sensescaping project, funded by WorkSafe’s WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund, and part of Peninsula Health’s Thriving in Health program, has introduced innovative tech-driven solutions to enhance the comfort and mental well-being of healthcare workers.

Spearheaded by RMIT Senior Lecturer Dr Olivier Cotsaftis, the project involved collaborating with medical professionals at Peninsula Health for three years to identify psychosocial challenges in their workplace and develop design-led remedies to prevent mental strain.

Among the innovations are 3D-knitted bespoke hospital scrubs. Traditional scrubs, tailored to fit standard male or female body shapes, often lead to stress and discomfort due to the lack of accommodation for various body sizes and shapes. The new 3D-knitted scrubs, however, leverage cutting-edge technology to provide a tailored and personalised fit for each individual, reducing stress and promoting a sense of ease during work hours.

Another noteworthy addition is the 3D printed chill out pods designed for busy healthcare workers. These tech-driven pods serve as dedicated relaxation spaces within the hospital environment, enabling healthcare professionals to take short breaks and rejuvenate during their demanding shifts. By incorporating ergonomic designs and soothing features, the pods help alleviate workplace stress, ultimately contributing to improved mental health and well-being for the healthcare workforce.

Additionally, the scrubs have been reengineered using advanced materials, providing a comfortable and breathable experience for the wearer. The integration of specialised fabrics that regulate body temperature prevents overheating and ensures that healthcare workers can focus on their duties without the distraction of discomfort.

Through this tech-centered initiative, the Safety Sensescaping project aims to create safe and mentally healthy environments, fostering a thriving atmosphere for healthcare workers in their vital roles. By combining design innovation and cutting-edge technology, this project represents a significant step forward in enhancing workplace mental health in the healthcare industry.

RMIT’s Dr. Olivier Cotsaftis used body scanning and 3D-knitting technology to create bespoke scrubs for healthcare workers. The scrubs, made from a blend of organic cotton and Seacell, offered superior comfort and fit, contributing to improved mental health and identity reclamation among staff at Peninsula Health.

Nurse Erin Colgan, after testing Dr. Cotsaftis’ prototypes, realised the negative impact of generic navy scrubs on her mental health through the Safety Sensescaping project. Her experience led her to consider changing how her scrubs affect her well-being.

The aim is to collaborate with tech companies to further improve the 3D knitting process, making it more efficient. Additionally, he plans to explore yarns sourced from organic waste to enhance the sustainability of the scrubs.

Given the challenging conditions healthcare workers face with limited restful breaks and lack of private resting spaces, an innovative solution has been developed: a suite of portable, modular, and environmentally-friendly 3D-printed furniture. These pieces are designed to be cost-effective and sustainable, as they can be printed on-demand when needed by the hospital and later industrially composted at the end of their life cycle.

The furniture’s core feature is its sound-absorbing capability, addressing the issue of noise pollution in healthcare settings. Using corn polylactic acid (PLA) and recycled paper, the prototypes offer sound-absorbent properties, allowing sound to pass through the furniture instead of bouncing off its surface. This thoughtful design aims to create quiet and private spaces for healthcare workers to de-stress and recharge during their demanding shifts.

According to WorkSafe, psychosocial hazards in the workplace increase the risk of work-related stress, potentially leading to psychological or physical harm. These hazards can encompass various factors, such as low job control, poor environmental conditions, and exposure to violent or traumatic events.

WorkSafe Victoria’s Executive Director of External Affairs highlighted that the Mental Health Improvement Fund supports initiatives that aim to prevent work-related mental injury through system-level changes. The program “Thriving in Health” focuses on prevention-oriented measures and aims to benefit over 100,000 frontline healthcare workers in Victoria.

The importance of taking care of healthcare workers was emphasised, especially those on the frontline, who face an elevated risk of mental illness and injury due to their work demands. Over the past three financial years, WorkSafe has received nearly 13,000 claims from the Healthcare and Social Assistance sector, with approximately 17.7 percent of these claims related to mental injuries.

Through the Safety Sensescaping project, led by Dr. Olivier Cotsaftis from RMIT University in collaboration with Peninsula Health and supported by WorkSafe’s WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund, human-centred design has been showcased as a powerful tool to address the challenge of mental well-being in the workplace.

The project’s outcomes, including innovative scrubs and furniture, go beyond aesthetics, demonstrating a design strategy applicable to various work-related factors contributing to poor staff mental well-being in healthcare. The research, as documented in the “2023 Safety Sensescaping Research and Engagement Report” and “Thriving in Health: Safety Sensescaping – A design approach to workplace mental health,” highlights the transformative potential of technology-driven design solutions for enhancing mental health in healthcare settings.

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