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June 25, 2014
Back injuries in healthcare: A $20 billion problem

OSHA has developed a new document to help employers and employees stem the tide of crippling, costly musculoskeletal injuries in the healthcare industry. Get details and check your knowledge of the facts about patient lifting.

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According to OSHA, musculoskeletal injuries are the single biggest worker injury in the healthcare sector. In 2012, nursing and residential care workers experienced twice as many injuries and illnesses as construction workers. Common ailments among health workers include muscle strains, low back and rotator cuff injuries, and tendonitis. In many cases, the cause is manual patient lifting and handling.

The new OSHA brochure describes a safe patient-handling program with elements including:

  • Input from employees who work directly with patients,
  • Commitment to the program by all levels of management,
  • Hazard assessment,
  • Technology,
  • Training, and
  • Equipment to control hazards.

Healthcare workers also face other serious safety and health risks like bloodborne pathogens and biological hazards, laser hazards, workplace violence, chemical exposure, and radioactive material and X-ray hazards. Several states, including California, Maryland, New York, Texas, and Ohio, have passed safe patient-handling legislation.

Myths and facts about safe patient handling

The new OSHA brochure corrects some common myths about patient handling initiatives. Among them:

Myth: Mechanical lifting is not as safe and comfortable for patients as manual lifting.
Fact: Once patients realize the ease and comfort of lifts, they are more likely to accept them. Mechanical lifts are safer for patients and healthcare workers.

Myth: It’s much faster to manually move patients.
Fact: If equipment is located conveniently, accessing it does not take a long time. OSHA says it’s often more time-consuming to round up a team of workers to manually lift a patient than to get and use safe patient handling equipment.

Myth: Manual lifting is less expensive than mechanical lifting.
Fact: Research shows the use of assistive technology like mechanical lifts reduces worker injuries and reduces costs associated with workers’ compensation, lost productivity, and turnover.

You can download the new brochure as a PDF from the OSHA website, https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/nursinghome.

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