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.
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.
Here are some interesting statistics regarding back pain from the American Nurses Association:
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.
Industries where patient handling tasks are performed include:
Some examples of areas of a facility that may be identified as high-risk include:
The first step in addressing the issue of patient handling is to assess the size and nature of the problem. Comprehensive reporting of worker injuries helps ensure you have the data available to develop your hospital's safe patient handling program. Here are some steps you can take to assess your safe patient handling concerns and needs:
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.
One of the most important aspects of any safe patient handling program is support from the top levels of hospital administration. Employees appreciate knowing managers care about their well-being. They are also much more likely to follow safe patient handling policies if management stands behind them.
In hospitals who have successfully reduced patient handling injuries, it is common to find administrators who support and promote a culture of safety. Administrators must weigh the benefits of investing in safe patient handling policies, procedures, training, and equipment. Hospital administrators should also fully understand how these investments impact their bottom line.
Several case studies show the initial capital investment in programs and equipment needed to safely handle patients can be recovered in two to five years, particularly when equipment purchases are coupled with training and policies to produce a lasting impact.
Although there can be considerable equipment, training, and infrastructure costs associated with implementing safe patient handling, hospitals with successful programs have found the long-term benefits far outweigh economic costs. Those benefits include:
Management support should encompass more than just the workers responsible for direct patient care. Departments such as laundry, maintenance, and engineering are vital to supporting safe patient handling as well. This includes maintaining equipment and supplying clean slings to troubleshooting facility design issues.
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.
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.
By establishing evaluation procedures and a process for enhancing your safe patient handling program, you can periodically assess the effectiveness of your hospital's efforts and ensure continuous safe patient handling improvement and long-term success. A few evaluation steps to consider:
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