Safe Patient Handling

According to the CDC, healthcare workers often experience musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) at a rate exceeding that of workers in construction, mining and manufacturing. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study points out that these injuries are due in large part to repeated manual patient handling activities, often involving heavy manual lifting associated with transferring and repositioning patients and working in extremely awkward postures. The problem is compounded, NIOSH notes, by the increasing weight of patients to be lifted due to the obesity epidemic in the United States and the rapidly increasing number of older people who require assistance with the activities of daily living.

Most programs aimed at preventing back and joint injuries focus on ergonomics - teaching proper lifting techniques, back care, and the mechanics of our bodies in motion. Ergonomics alone, however, is not enough. The use of technology, especially lifting devices, is critical to the goal of reducing injury in the healthcare setting.

The American Nurses Association supports the elimination of manual patient handling, which includes lifting, repositioning, and transferring. Studies show that the use of safe patient handling equipment cuts the risk of staff injury dramatically. In addition, the American Nurses Association notes that the use of this equipment improves the quality of patient care by reducing the potential for injury (such as falls and skin tears) as a result of a manual handling mishap. Safe patient handling equipment is engineered to move patients safely and, because the equipment is designed to match a patient’s ability to assist in his or her own movement, it helps the patient maintain a sense of privacy and dignity.

Equipment for safe patient handling may be costly, but a study conducted by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) finds that the long-term benefits of proper equipment far outweigh the costs related to work-related injuries. In addition, the same VHA study finds that staff will be more likely to use the equipment if they are included in the decision-making process for purchasing this equipment. Training, of course, is key. All staff should be properly trained on the use of this equipment.

If you are interested in safe patient handling equipment training at your facility, please contact David Huskins at 617-746-5742.