Healthcare employees perform frequent lifting and reaching for patients during their transfers. The exposure to ergonomics-related risk factors may lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorders, and the urgency often present in treating patients in the ED may increase the potential for ergonomic hazards.
Employees are at the increased risk of developing MSDs if the tasks related to patient care are:
- Performed with awkward postures (e.g., twisting, bending to the side, back hyperextension or flexion, reaching across the patient beds),
- Performed with awkward postures that are sustained over a period of time (i.e., holding the arm out straight for several minutes contributes to muscle and tendon fatigue, and joint soreness),
- Performed using a great deal of force (e.g., repositioning a physically dependent or obese patient, or pushing wheelchairs or gurneys across elevation changes or up ramps while transferring a patient to or from ED),
- Lifting heavy patients
Recognized Controls and Work Practices
Safe Patient Handling Programs and policies that limit or prohibit manual lifting have been shown to be effective in reducing MSDs in hospital and nursing staff. Research has shown that the use of mechanical lifting equipment and a Safe Patient Handling Program can significantly reduce injuries to hospital staff.
Minimize manual lifting of patients in all cases and eliminate manual lifting when possible. Focusing solely on “proper body mechanics" during lifting is not sufficient to prevent MSDs.
- Worker Safety in Hospitals: Caring for Our Caregivers – Safe Patient Handling. OSHA.
- Safe Patient Handling. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.
- Safe Patient Handling: Preventing Musculoskeletal Disorders in Nursing Homes. OSHA Publication 3708, (February 2014).
- Improving Patient and Worker Safety: Opportunities for Synergy, Collaboration and Innovation. The Joint Commission.
- Guidelines for Nursing Homes: Ergonomics for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders. OSHA Publication 3182, (2003, Revised March 2009). Section III, Identifying Problems and Implementing Solutions for Resident Lifting and Repositioning, includes an assessment of resident handling tasks that can help to determine the safest methods for performing necessary tasks for individual patients without injuring workers. A list of sample equipment solutions for patient lifting and repositioning tasks is also included.
- Ergonomics. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.
- Inspection Guidance for Inpatient Healthcare Settings. (June 25, 2015). OSHA memorandum establishing guidance for inspections conducted in inpatient healthcare settings.
- Also see Hospital-wide Hazards - Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders.