Frequent manual patient handling can cause microinjuries, which accumulate into chronic and sometimes severe musculoskeletal disorders and back injuries. RNs need protection from this ergonomic hazard. Sprains, strains, and tears make up 52% of all injuries that result in days away from work for RNs. Unsafe patient handling causes the bulk of these injuries, some of which have ended nurses’ careers.
The most effective solution is a coordinated safe patient handling program at the hospital-level.
Elements of safe patient handling for which NNU fights:
- Does NOT simply replace nurses or manual handling tasks with equipment.
- DOES include a combination of training, equipment, and additional staff.
- The employer shall replace manual lifting and transferring of patients with powered patient transfer devices, lifting devices, and lift teams. The employer shall provide trained lift teams or other support staff trained in safe lifting and shall hire additional staff to comprise the lift team as necessary to ensure that direct patient care assignments are not compromised.
- A designated RN shall be responsible for the observation and direction of patient lifts and mobilizations.
- An RN has the right to refuse to lift, reposition, or transfer a patient due to concerns about patient or worker safety or the lack of trained personnel or appropriate equipment. The employer shall not discipline the RN for such a refusal.
- An RN, acting as the coordinator of care, shall be responsible for assessing the mobility needs of each patient to determine the appropriate patient handing procedures based on the nurse’s professional judgment.
The hospital’s safe patient handling program should:
- Conduct a coordinated evaluation of all patient handling tasks on each unit to identify the places where workers are at risk for injuries.
- Create procedures to ensure that trained staff AND equipment are available within the timeframe provided by the RN’s instruction.
- Ensure procedures for the RN, as the coordinator of care, to oversee and direct all patient handling tasks, including lifts and mobilizations.
- Evaluate the Safe Patient Handling Program annually to ensure that all patient handling hazards have been addressed and that workers are not being injured while performing these tasks.
Guide to Implementing California’s Safe Patient Handling Regulation: What is California’s Safe Patient Handling Regulation?
Cal/OSHA’s Healthcare Worker Back and Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention Act requires most general acute-care hospitals in California to develop a patient protection and health care worker back and musculoskeletal injury prevention plan. This regulation recognizes that an effective safe patient handling program requires the active involvement of employees in identifying and evaluating hazards, in finding solutions, and in identifying problems with implementation of the program.