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Myths about patient handling techniques

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), health care workers (nurses, nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants) suffer musculoskeletal injuries at a rate seven times that of workers in other occupations. This is far higher than workers in other physically demanding industries such as construction, mining, and warehousing. Health care employers incur $20 billion in direct and indirect costs related to musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace.

What explains the high rate of back injuries, neck injuries, shoulder injuries and muscular strains in the health care field? To a large part, they are due to overexertion resulting from the constant moving and repositioning of patients, often performed in awkward postures. This problem seems to be growing in severity because of hospital understaffing, increased numbers of patients, and the obesity epidemic.

Countering patient handling myths

To dispel certain myths that have grown up and to encourage good patient handling techniques, OSHA has prepared a fact sheet titled Busting the Myths. It's essential reading for health care workers who must reposition patients as a regular part of their jobs.

Some of the myths and facts OSHA cites include the following:

Myth: Training in the use of proper body mechanics alone can solve the problem.
Fact: More than 30 years of research and experience show that relying on proper manual lifting techniques is not enough. Mechanical lifting techniques are an important part of the solution.

Myth: It takes less time to move a patient manually than with a mechanical lifting device.
Fact: More time is usually required to gather enough employees to safely lift a patient than it does to find and use mechanical lifting equipment.

Myth: Mechanical lifting equipment is not economically feasible.
Fact: Health care providers do incur capital and maintenance costs by purchasing mechanical lifting equipment. But this is more than offset over time by reduced injuries, workers' compensation costs, and increased productivity.

Myth: If hospitals and nursing homes invest in lifting and transfer equipment, workers will not use it.
Fact: According to a survey conducted by the American Nurses Association, 76% of respondents in facilities with such equipment report using it to some degree and 31% use the devices frequently.

Myth: Use of mechanical lifts eliminates all risk of musculoskeletal injuries.
Fact: Musculoskeletal injuries to health care workers will never be eliminated altogether. But the incidence of such injuries can be significantly reduced through the use of mechanical lifting devices.

A message to health care workers

Health care workers who suffer back, shoulder and neck injuries as a result of moving and repositioning patients can experience reduced incomes and higher medical costs. And chronic lower back pain is correlated with increased incidence of depression. Most musculoskeletal injuries that occur in hospitals and nursing homes are cumulative. Therefore, health care workers should do everything they can to minimize the chance of injury by using mechanical lifting devices whenever possible.

If you have suffered a musculoskeletal injury while working, you may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits. Speak with an attorney if you have questions about filing a claim.

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