Healthcare workers across the U.S. are concerned about becoming injured on the job, and with good reason. According to 2011 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, musculoskeletal injuries from overexertion in healthcare occupations are among the highest of all U.S. industries. The rate of injuries for hospital workers is twice the nation’s average. Nursing home workers suffer three times the average and ambulance workers six times.
Manual lifting and moving and repositioning patients are the greatest risk factors for incurring these injuries. As nurses and nurse aids perform the lion’s share of these tasks in hospitals and care facilities, they are the ones who suffer the most lost time due to back and musculoskeletal pain.
So what’s being done to combat this important issue?
Government Agencies Stepping In
Fortunately, U.S. federal agencies are taking notice and more importantly, action. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has made it their mission to work with those in the healthcare sector to eliminate occupational diseases, injuries, and fatalities through a focused program of research and prevention. Safe patient handling is a main focus of their research, and prevention of musculoskeletal injuries continues to be a high priority.
In addition, government, industry and academia are collaborating to conduct further research to share at conferences, and in publications and training programs. In June 2013, the American Nurses Association (ANA) released their publication, “Safe Patient Handling and Mobility: Interprofessional National Standards,” which was created as a collaborative effort with national subject management experts. The Standards apply to multiple health care settings and reach across the continuum of care. They offer guidance for establishing a comprehensive program to eliminate the manual handling of patients.
Instituting a safe patient handling system can help decrease the over 35,000 injuries nationwide that nurses sustain from manually transferring patients, a number which is expected to increase as the obesity rate in the U.S. continues to grow.
Although there is legislature on the books and efforts being made to mitigate the issue, some institutions are taking matters into their own hands. The University of Minnesota School of Nursing is taking a proactive approach by teaching their students how to use mechanical equipment, such as ceiling lifts, which can reduce a patient’s weight by 90%.
There are also materials available such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) “Safe Patient Handling Training for Schools of Nursing,” a booklet that provides guidance for setting up programs to ensure students have the knowledge they need to reduce the chance of injury once in the field.
Home Healthcare Solutions
Those in home healthcare face additional challenges, since they don’t have access to high-end, mechanical equipment. In addition, most home healthcare providers work alone and research indicates that if any caregiver is required to lift more than 35 pounds of a patient’s weight, assistive devices should be used for the transfer.
However, there is ergonomic equipment available to help home healthcare workers. Items such as hoists, toileting and showering chairs, grab bars and slip sheets can help, but most times, manual patient handling is still a job requirement.
Evidence-based research has shown that safe patient handling interventions can significantly reduce overexertion injuries by replacing manual patient handling with safer methods. There are a variety of resources available to educate those in the healthcare field as to the proper methods, and continuous research is being done by multiple agencies to come up with better solutions. The good news is that both government and industry recognizes this as a serious issue that needs to be resolved.