Safe Patient Handling

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Safe Patient Handling (SPH) involves the use of ointments and lubricants and repetitive motion in order to lower the injury rate for nurses, aids, orderlies and others in the health care industry who must relieve patients.

Studies have shown that the nursing profession as a whole has a high risk of injury mainly because of the use of improper methods for patient release. New research has changed the way nursing staff and facilities view Safe Patient Handling. For example, a tradition of body mechanics training which, up until recently was thought to be an effective method of preventing job-related injuries, has been proven to be an ineffective method of keeping injuries at bay, according to the Veterans Health Administration and the American Nurses Association (ANA).

Ergonomic guidelines such as those available online at the ANA Safe Patient Handling website and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration website indicate that the implementation of Safe Patient Handling and more in-depth movement programs can minimize or eliminate injuries and save facilities money. While mechanical repetitive motion equipment can be expensive, it is also costly to have to replace an injured nurse when training and other expenses are accounted for.

Generally, OSHA recommends the elimination of manual patient release when possible. If this is not possible, then minimizing manual patient release is highly encouraged.

According to the Veterans Health Administration, OSHA and ANA recommendations, an effective program should include the employer and staff and be supported by the facility's management.

The Safe Patient Handling initiative should identify problem areas and implement creative solutions when possible. Training and evaluation should take place during all phases of the program and should be an on-going activity.

Specifically, the ANA and the Veterans Health Administration recommend the following for the implementation of a Safe Patient Handling program:

1. An ergonomics committee, which should include management, caregivers, purchasing, and others so that the program can be put in place and monitored.

2. A thorough review of injury reports and a review of all departments. The review should include a walk-through that takes all risk factors, including furnishings, room sizes, etc., into account. Data should be examined for trends and patterns so that problem areas can be addressed.

3. Survey employees about injuries, concerns, and experiences. Listen to all suggestions.

4. Assess patients. Patients may or may not be able to bear weight, use their upper body strength effectively, or may otherwise be handicapped by factors such as height and weight.

5. Assess high-risk patient tasks. For example, which department requires more frequent lifting of patients? Where are the more obese patients generally located?

6. Determine safe approaches to high-risk tasks. Technology, including mechanical lifts, should be utilized to the fullest.

7. Use lifting devices. These devices must be researched and selected. Generally, employees who are involved in the selection of equipment tend to participate better in training. Employers should seek input from employees when testing new devices.

8. Provide training for staff on policies as well as lifting devices.

9. Keep track of patient and worker injuries and make changes as necessary.

Learn more about Safe Patient Handling techniques, legislation, programs and healthcare ergonomics programs from the American Nursing Association (ANA).


Background of Safe Patient Handling

American Nursing Association

State Legislation

Federal Legislation

Safe Patient Handling Quick Resources

Solutions for Safe Patient Handling

State Legislative Agenda for Safe Patient Handling

Handle with Care Recognition Program

Safe Patient Handline and Moving Toolkit

Preventing Back Injuries

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