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Course 772 - Introduction to Safe Patient Handling

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

The Risks of Patient Handling


The U.S. Department of Labor defines a musculoskeletal disorder as an injury or disorder of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joins, cartilage, or spinal disks.

Back Pain

Many MSDs in the healthcare field are due in large part to overexertion related to repeated manual patient handling activities, often involving heavy manual lifting associated with transferring, and repositioning patients and working in awkward postures.

Sprains and strains are the most often reported injuries, and the shoulders and lower back are the most affected body parts.

Let’s take a look at some interesting statistics regarding back pain from the American Nurses Association:

  • 52% of nurses complain of chronic back pain.
  • 12% leave nursing because of back pain.
  • 20% transfer to different units because of back pain.
  • Back pain is the leading cause of disability in those less than 45 years old.

Consequences of Work-Related Injuries

The consequences of work-related muscular injuries among nurses is substantial. Along with the higher employer costs due to medical expenses, disability compensation, and litigation, nurse injuries also are costly in terms of chronic pain, missed work days, and employee turnover.

As many as 20% of nurses who leave direct patient care positions do so because of the risks associated with the work.

Direct and indirect costs associated with back injuries in the healthcare industry alone are estimated to be $20 billion annually.

Many healthcare employees who experience pain and fatigue, may also be less productive, less attentive, and more susceptible to further injury and may be more likely to affect the health and safety of others.

Most Susceptible Industries

The radiology department could be identified as high-risk.
(Click to enlarge)

Industries where patient handling tasks are performed include:

  • long-term care (includes facilities that provide skilled or non-skilled nursing care)
  • acute care (includes hospitals, out-patient surgical centers, and clinics)
  • home healthcare workers
  • others (includes physical therapists, radiologists, sonographers, etc.)

Some examples of areas of a facility that may be identified as high-risk include:

  • bathing rooms
  • extended care wings
  • diagnostic units (for example, radiology, emergency department, spinal unit and orthopedics department)
Protecting Nurses as a Valuable Resource - Washington State L&I

Stages of MSDs

Early stage: pain may disappear after a rest away from work.

Intermediate stage: body part aches and feels weak soon after starting work and lasts until well after finishing work.

Advanced stage: body part aches and feels weak, even at rest. Sleep may be affected and light tasks are difficult on days off.

You should NOT ignore signs and symptoms of MSDs. Employees should report any pain to their manager or supervisor and seek treatment immediately to prevent further pain.

The video on this page demonstrates patient handling tasks that put the nurse at risk of developing MSDs. The video discusses anatomy and risks to the lower back, the shoulder, the wrist, and the knee.

Technology to Make Patient Handling Safer


Given the increasingly hazardous biomechanical demands on caregivers today, it is clear the healthcare industry must rely on technology to make patient handling and movement safe.

Patient transfer and lifting devices are key components of an effective program to control the risk of injury to patients and staff involved in lifting, transferring, repositioning or movement of patients.

Essential elements of such a program include:

  • management commitment to implement a safe patient handling program
  • providing workers with appropriate measures to avoid manual handling
  • worker participation in the assessment and implementation processes
  • evaluation and selection of patient handling devices
  • thorough assessment that addresses high risk units or areas
  • investment in equipment
  • care planning for patient handling and movement
  • training for staff
  • program review and evaluation process

The use of assistive patient handling equipment and devices is beneficial not only for healthcare staff, but also for patients. Explaining planned lifting procedures before lifting and enlisting their cooperation and engagement can only increase patient safety and comfort, as well as enhance their sense of dignity.



Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Many MSDs in the healthcare field are due in large part to _____.

2. What percentage of nurses leave the field because of back pain?

3. Which of the following areas are examples of a facility that may be identified as high-risk?

4. Which stage would an affected body part ache and feel week soon after starting work?

5. It is okay to ignore symptoms of MSDs until it starts affecting your work and daily lifestyle.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.