Hospital patient care involves a lot of heavy lifting. Sick and injured patients need to be shifted and rolled in bed, lifted to a sitting position, and transferred from a bed to wheelchair or walker.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), hospital and facility health care providers have the highest rates of musculoskeletal injuries of any occupation — more than even construction workers and freight and stock movers. The most common injuries involve muscle sprains and strains of the neck shoulders and upper and lower spine.
A couple of factors seem to influence this. First, counter to reality, nursing in particular is not viewed as a job that requires great physical strength. Second, the people hired for these positions are often not conditioned for heavy lifting tasks. And third, the training they receive may for lifting and transfers may be inadequate and advocate methods that may actually do more harm than good. The risks are highest among hospital nurses, those working in long-term care facilities, and home health care workers.
Most nursing schools still teach using body mechanics to support lifting and moving patients. This means using your own body weight to counterbalance that of patients who are often much bigger and heavier than you. The math is working against you.
So what should you do?
Learn to use ergonomic principles to do most of the work for you. Ergonomics refers to adjusting the job to the capabilities of the person doing it. Before you overexert yourself, first follow these steps:
- Define all the physical requirements of the task.
- Assess all of the physical features of the environment (slippery floors, height and tilt of the bed, obstacles on the floor, etc).
- Evaluate the patient’s mobility and limitations.
THEN, use whatever you can to reduce the workload on your body. For example:
- Call for assistance to lift or move a patient;
- Have the patient work with you (by rolling or moving limbs);
- Use friction reducing devices (FRDs) including slide boards and draw sheets for ease of repositioning;
- Use gait belts wherever applicable to help lift patients upright and help support their weight when standing; and
- Limit the number of lifts or transfers you do in a day.
For more tips on ergonomic approaches to lifting and moving patients, read this Safe Patient Handling information sheet from OSHA.
Last updated on 9/22/19.