Watch Your Back: How to Develop an Effective Safe-Patient-Handling Program
January 1, 2012 | Evaluations & Guidance
Lower-back and other injuries sustained while physically lifting, transferring, and repositioning patients are an all-too-common problem among nurses and other healthcare staff. The published literature presents clear evidence of the dangers of such tasks. For example, in 2007, nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants ranked highest in incidence of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among occupations at risk for these injuries, with a rate of 252 cases per 10,000 workers—seven times the national MSD average for all occupations. While MSD rates have declined in most industries in recent years, the healthcare industry has seen no such improvement (Waters et al. 2009). The prevalence of MSDs has, among other things, compounded the current nursing shortage and increased Workers’ Compensation payouts. Patients, too, can be affected: Patient falls, bruising, shoulder injuries, and skin tears may occur during manual patient handling (Nelson and Baptiste 2004).
It is not just the heaviest patient-handling tasks that may cause harm. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the maximum recommended weight limit for most patient-lifting tasks is 35 lb. This means that most tasks involving manually moving or lifting patients are inherently unsafe, especially if the patient cannot bear his or her own weight. Although nurses are trained in proper body mechanics, there is “no safe method to manually lift another adult human being” (Waters et al. 2009).
Healthcare facilities must take steps to protect their employees from these injuries. One way to achieve this goal is to implement a program dedicated to safe patient handling and movement (SPHM). An SPHM program is a focused effort to improve the safety of transferring, repositioning, and lifting patients.
An SPHM program involves (1) establishing protocols for identifying patient-specific approaches to handling, (2) developing a culture that supports safe handling, (3) providing training and education for staff, and (4) equipping staff with the right patient-handling equipment and encouraging its use. All of these areas must be given equal weight...