Safe Patient Handling
By Mandy Witt
Have you ever stopped to think about exactly how much patient care providers actually lift in an average shift? It has been estimated that in an eight hour shift, the cumulative weight that a patient care provider lifts is 1.8 tons. Can you see yourself lifting an elephant or six grand pianos every day? Of course not! But patient care providers lift that much in smaller increments all day long, which adds up and puts them at risk for injury.
Nationwide statistics show that patient care providers are ranked at the top of occupations with high work related injuries (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006).
52% of nurses
complain of chronic low back pain
38% suffered occupational-related back pain severe enough to require time away from work
▪ 20% are transferred to a different unit, position, or change employment
▪ 12% leave the profession due to back pain
With a growing obesity rate, higher levels of patient acuity, shorter hospital stays, and the continued increase in nursing workloads, today’s hospitalized patients are more dependent on patient care providers for assistance with mobility; putting them at greater risk for injury. Consequences to employers include high workers’ compensation costs, days away from work for injured workers, as well as the need to hire replacement workers. Protecting the health and safety of patient care providers is vital not only to the workers and their employers, but also to the overall health of the nation.
The causes of caregiver injuries are primarily related to the manual lifting and moving of patients. The primary risk factors for moving patients include forceful exertions, repetition, and awkward postures. Some examples of high risk patient handling activities include:
▪ Boosting a patient in bed
▪ Lateral transfers
▪ Vertical transfers to/from bed/wheelchair/stretcher/toilet/vehicle
▪ Assisting a patient from sit to stand/stand to sit
▪ Ambulating/walking patients
The goal of safe patient handling is to reduce the physical stresses and injury risk to patient care providers related to manual lifting and transferring of patients, while striving to improve the safety, comfort, and quality of patient transfers. Safe patient handling aims to reduce lifting demands associated with moving patients to 35 pounds or less, as set forth by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Thirty-five years of research has shown us there is no “safe” way to manually lift a patient, and using proper body mechanics alone will not prevent caregiver injury. Use of safe patient handling equipment combined with effective training on safe work practices is the only proven way to reduce caregiver injuries associated with moving and transferring patients. Use of safe patient handling equipment has been shown to reduce exposure of manual lifting injuries by up to 95%.
A comprehensive safe patient handling program is necessary to effectively reduce the risk of caregiver injury. The key elements of a successful safe patient handling program include:
▪ Commitment from management at all levels
▪ A safe patient handling committee that involves frontline workers
▪ Implementation and enforcement of a safe patient handling policy
▪ Risk/hazard assessment
▪ Implementation of methods to control risk
▪ Selecting and using appropriate lifting equipment in accordance with the risk/hazard assessment
▪ Providing education and training
▪ Performing preventative maintenance on lifting equipment
▪ Program evaluation
Hospitals and other licensed healthcare facilities with successful safe patient handling programs have demonstrated the following long-term benefits:
▪ Reduced caregiver injuries
▪ Decreases in lost time and workers’ compensation costs
▪ Increased productivity
▪ Higher quality of work life and worker satisfaction
▪ Staff retention
▪ Better patient care outcomes and satisfaction
With a safe patient handling program, patient care providers can enjoy the rewards of their work free from pain and injury, and employers can protect their most valued asset, their staff.
Mandy Witt, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, the Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association, and also serves on the MNOSHA Safe Patient Handling Panel. She is an Ergonomics and Loss Control Specialist with RAS.