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Course 774 - Safe Patient Handling Program

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

Policy and Program Development

A written policy facilitates complete implementation and sustained success of a safe patient handling program.


A written policy facilitates complete implementation and sustained success of a safe patient handling program. Consistent management leadership can "set the tone" and make safe patient handling a visible priority.

A program is more likely to be successful if nurse managers and frontline staff are involved early in the development of the program.

For more help in designing, developing, and deploying an effective Safe Patient Handling Program, see the following resources:

  • Safe Patient Handling Checklist, OSHA
  • Safe Patient Handling Program Guide, WISHA
  • Safe Patient Handling Program Effectiveness, OSHA

Employee Expectations

The initial capital investment in programs and equipment needed to safely handle patients can be recovered in two to five years.

Safe patient handling policies establish expectations that staff will use the safest techniques to accomplish patient handling tasks, and that administrators will provide equipment and resources to support staff efforts. In addition, proper training on equipment use is necessary, as are accountability and a commitment to the overall culture of safety.

Safe patient handling policies should:

  • address the importance of using lift equipment correctly
  • stress following proper handling procedures to ensure both patient and worker safety
  • be designed as a pledge from administrators and staff to protect patients and workers, and
  • include clearly stated goals and expectations.

Developing and Implementing

Once you realize you need to create a safe patient handling program, you need to have a plan to implement it.

Once you have assessed the need for a safe patient handling program, it is now time to start planning ways to implement it.

Developing a plan includes:

  • brainstorming ideas for a program model,
  • determining the selection of necessary equipment,
  • gaining administrative approval (if not received during the assessment step), and
  • creating an implementation plan.

First, to get ideas for your program, look at various sample program models. Consider various levels of intervention, including the costs for human resources, training, equipment, and potential injury reduction.

Next, determine the methods for safe patient handling, and the best method to implement and maintain the program within the facility. For example, will each caregiver be responsible for their own patients, or will each individual department use its own safe lifting team? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each option?

Policy Development

Next, you will need to develop a policy on safe patient handling based on the model adopted and then make a case to administration for implementation of the program.

Sample Policy

XYZ Health System facilitates a culture of safety by providing patient handling equipment, program elements to support the use of equipment, employee training and the infrastructure to support the Safe Patient Handling program.

  • Staff will use mechanical lift equipment and other approved handling aids to prevent and/or augment manual lifting and movement of patients when the load is greater than 35lbs, except when absolutely necessary, such as in a medical emergency.
  • All staff who may be required to physically move, transfer or reposition patients will be trained in the use of mechanical lifting devices and other approved patient handling aids. Such devices and aides must be used in accordance with instructions and training.
  • It is the duty of employees to take reasonable care of their own health and safety, as well as that of their co-workers and their patients during patient handling activities by following this policy. Non-compliance will indicate a need for retraining. Repeated non compliance with this policy will result in corrective action, up to and including termination. (Adapted from WSHA)

Once the data is analyzed, an executive summary and report need to be prepared for administrative review. The report should include:

  • cost justification (i.e., return on investment)
  • implementation plan
  • staffing requirements needed for the program

Program Implementation

A major step in creating a safe patient handling program is the actual implementation. Complete the following actions when implementing the SPH program:

  • Identify a roll-out date.
  • Educate by training all staff, from senior management to front-line employees, regarding the ergonomic risks common in lifting, transferring, and repositioning patients.
  • Publicize the program by working with the media/public relations department to communicate, publicize, and promote the new program and its results once it is implemented.
  • If you have multiple facilities, it's best to roll out the SPH in one location. Limiting the roll out to one location reduces the negative impact if the program is not effective. If, after evaluation of the SPH program, you determine it's effective, deploy the SPH program to all facilities.

Remember, the program is designed to target a change in the organization's culture and individual human behavior. This sample checklist highlights many of the important components of a safe patient handling program or policy, including development, management and staff involvement, needs assessments, equipment, education and training, and evaluation.

Facilitating Change

Establishing and maintaining a successful safe patient handling program will likely require a culture change throughout the hospital. The American Nurses Association (ANA) recommends employers and healthcare workers partner to establish a culture which emphasizes safety as the top priority above competing goals.

According to ANA's standards, a culture of safety includes:

  • acknowledgement of the risk
  • commitment to provide resources to consistently achieve safe operations
  • blame-free environment where workers can report errors or incidents without fear
  • emphasis on collaboration across sectors and settings

Principles that go beyond equipment and procedures help create a prevention-based culture of safety, and in turn benefit patient safety as well.

Modeling Safe Patient Handling Behaviors

Modeling safe patient handling behaviors is key to facilitating change. Along with overall safety coordinators, the dedicated safety champions or “coaches” on each floor or unit to encourage their colleagues to follow safe patient handling policies and procedures. These individuals continually remind and educate their peers about the program and promote a cultural mindset of safety. Nurse managers also can help to support and reinforce the program with staff.

Employee Training

Training and education are critical to the success of any safe patient handling program.

Training and education are critical to the success of any safe patient handling program, especially training on proper patient handling equipment use and ongoing education about the benefits of safe patient handling.

By educating all staff, including physicians, about your safe patient handling program, hospitals can reduce instances of a clinician asking or expecting colleagues to move patients in an unsafe way.

Training can range from onsite demonstrations of equipment use and maintenance to broader safe patient handling education programs and national conferences.

Comprehensive Approach to Education and Training

The following are some ideas for a comprehensive approach to safe patient handling education and training:

  • Make sure that all relevant workers are trained on using the mechanical lift equipment. Caregivers should feel comfortable using the equipment. If the caregiver uses the equipment correctly and efficiently, patients will feel more comfortable too.
  • Refresh, remind, and require ongoing training. Programs tend to be less successful over time if they do not receive adequate attention. Including safe patient handling procedures and policies in annual competency sessions is one way to remind workers of the program's importance and promote equipment proficiency. The American Nurses Association recommends that hospitals establish systems for education, training, and maintaining competencies.
  • Consider mentors and peer education champions. In addition to monitoring new employees, nurse managers and other "safety champions" can serve as mentors and peer coaches in every unit, reminding their colleagues how and when to use safe patient handling procedures and equipment.
  • Train caregivers to check each patient's mobility every time. Every patient has unique characteristics and mobility capabilities. It is important to assess these regularly, and to communicate each patient's level of mobility and need for assistance to all relevant caregivers.
  • Engage patients and their families. Patients may not understand the need for mechanical equipment at first. You can engage them in safe handling by explaining to them and their families that it is for their safety as well as the workers' safety.


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. A safety program is more likely to be successful if nurses and frontline staff are involved _____ in the development of the program.

2. Programs tend to be less successful over time if they do not receive adequate attention.

3. What is the key to facilitating change?

4. Safe patient handling policies should be designed as a pledge from administrators and staff to protect patients and workers.

5. What is the role of safety coaches or champions?

Have a great day!

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