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Safe Patient Handling Tip Sheet

Every day, nurses across the country are suffering from debilitating back injuries, strains and sprains - work-related musculoskeletal disorders - as a consequence of dealing with ergonomic hazards in health care settings. The majority of these injuries result from patient handling tasks - such as lifting, transferring, and repositioning. Others may occur from working in a poorly designed physical work environment. Back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders are preventable with a safe patient handling and movement program. Breaking your back should not be a part of the job!

How can you institute a safe patient handling and movement program in your facility?

Create an ergonomics committee.
This can be an independent group or part of your organization's workplace health and safety committee. Members should include representatives from management, direct caregivers, purchasing, risk management, and employee/occupational health staff. Management support and frontline employee participation is vital to developing an effective team. The primary responsibility of the committee should be establishing, implementing, and monitoring a comprehensive ergonomics program.

Analyze the data, conduct a walk-through
Review OSHA 300 Injury/Illness Logs (which employers are required to make available on request), incident reports, and other reporting systems. Perform a walk-through for all units during all shifts to look for risk factors. Examine patterns and trends of who is being injured and why.

Survey employees.
Survey employees about their concerns, experiences, and suggestions.

Assess patient dependency levels.
Make decisions on which equipment and devices to use considering patient needs and abilities. Patient populations may have varying and distinct levels of providing assistance, bearing weight, upper and lower extremity strength, height and weight, as well as special circumstances and specific orders.

Assess risky patient handling tasks.
Perform an ergonomics hazard assessment based on information and data that is collected. Consider the variety of patient handling tasks, types of nursing units, patient populations, and physical environment. Determine which tasks pose a risk for injury on each unit. Is it frequent lifts of dependent patients in rehab? Multiple transfers for geriatric residents? Repositioning bariatric (obese) patients in the ICU?

Develop and adopt a safe patient handling policy.
Organizations can institute a "no lift" policy that discourages manual patient handling and requires the use of appropriate equipment and devices as necessary. This policy can be applied "facility-wide" or be tailored to be "unit-specific" to meet staff needs. Avoid language in the policy that disciplines employees.

Research, evaluate, select, pilot, & institute patient handling equipment and devices.
Involve frontline health care workers during every step to ensure optimal use of new equipment. When testing devices, like mechanical lifts, lateral transfer aids, gait belts, and transfer chairs, seek input from staff and patients. Use criteria to evaluate and select patient handling equipment, including patient comfort and safety, caregiver stability and safety, task appropriateness, efficiency, maintenance, storage, availability for use, and cost effectiveness. Contact a variety of equipment and device manufacturers to keep updated on the latest technology and establish a timeline for investing in capital equipment purchases.

Provide comprehensive and interactive training for staff.
Train staff on policies and equipment and devices before implementing them. Consider the need to train new employees or health care workers whose staff assignments are changed. Identify and train peer back-injury prevention leaders.

Encourage reporting of back injuries, strains, and other musculoskeletal injuries.
Create a blame-free environment for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses. Staff must feel comfortable to report any injury or illness without negative consequences. Not only can employees be promptly treated, but corrective action can be taken to eliminate or minimize the hazard.

Track patient and worker injuries.
Continue to routinely collect and analyze data and update the program with the latest policies, best practices, and technology.

Evaluate the program.
Continue to monitor the program including worker injury data, periodic surveys of employees concerning the program, evaluate new technology, re-educate trainers, and update the program as new practices and products become available.

For more information go to ANA's Handle with Care campaign