Patient lifting

Hospitals had the highest number of injuries and illnesses of any industry at 258,000 in 2010. These are facilities that we expect to be among the safest, yet they are the most dangerous. What causes this? From my observations it comes down to short-staffing and lack of time.

During my research for a healthcare Job Safety Analysis presentation, I went to a hospital to observe nurses lifting and moving patients. I discussed patient lifting with one of the nurses and she explained that obviously they strive to do 2-person lifts or use assistance whenever available, but in many instances that is just not plausible. Sometimes, a one-man lift is the only option and as she put it, “… sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to get help.”

This says a lot about the healthcare industry. Nurses don’t always have the time or resources to get assistance, so they just do whatever it takes to get the job done. And that’s why they are undergoing serious Musculoskeletal Disorders, such as back and shoulder injuries, sprains and strains.

I decided to perform an estimation of the back compressive force and also an evaluation using the NIOSH Lifting Equation, and the numbers I came up with were staggering.

For a patient weighing roughly 130lbs and a nurse weighing around 140lbs, a compressive force of over 2,000lbs can occur during the single-person lift (i.e., lifting the patient alone). Any value over 770lbs is at risk and in need of controls to help reduce the task.

The NIOSH Lifting Equation yielded similarly troubling numbers; a Recommended Weight Limit of around 17lbs (so low due to the awkward and excessive extension during lifting) and a Lifting Index of over 7 (versus recommended no higher than 3). In laymen’s terms, this task is in deep need of assistance and/or changing and clearly demonstrates the overexertion routinely demanded of these employees.

So, what can be done to make this job safer? Hospitals are in need of more help or lifting devices to assist nurses who have to lift, pull or push patients. Administrators must realize the seriousness of what is happening to their nurses and other workers and the related economic and human losses before this problem will be resolved.

The next time you’re in a hospital, watch a nurse for a few minutes. You might find that they are not only doing work that you wouldn’t want to do, but they are also most likely tougher than you are. At least until their back and shoulders give out.

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