Hospital-wide Hazards » Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders

Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) affect the muscles, nerves and tendons, musculoskeletal system and connective tissue. MSDs may include sprains, strains, tears; herniated discs; pain, swelling and numbness; carpal or tarsal tunnel syndrome; and a form of Raynaud's syndrome, among others.

MSDs (including those of the neck, upper extremities and lower back) are the leading cause of lost workday injury and illness in the healthcare industry (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Sprains and strains are the most often reported injuries, and the shoulders and lower back are the most frequently affected body parts. In healthcare, MSDs may result from overexertion related to the manual lifting, moving and repositioning of patients, residents or clients (i.e., manual patient handling). In addition to frequent lifting and repositioning patients, the increasing weight of patients to be lifted due to the obesity epidemic in the United States is a significant risk factor (CDC).

Given the increasing biomechanical demands on caregivers today, and the effectiveness of lifting equipment, the healthcare industry must rely on technology to make lifting patients safer. Patient transfer and lifting devices are key components of an effective program to control the risk of injury to patients and staff associated with lifting, transferring, repositioning or movement of patients. Safe Patient Handling can reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Reducing injuries not only helps workers, but also improves patient care and the financial bottom line.

Safe Patient Handling Programs are being implemented across the country to help reduce MSDs among hospital workers. Essential elements of such a program include the following:

  • Management commitment to implement a safe patient handling program and to provide workers with appropriate measures to avoid manual handling;
  • Worker participation in the assessment and implementation processes and the evaluation and selection of patient handling devices;
  • A thorough hazard assessment that addresses high-risk units or areas;
  • Consistent investment in equipment;
  • Staff planning for patient handling and mobility;
  • Training for staff. Focus the education and training of healthcare employees on assessment of hazards in the healthcare work setting, selection and use of the appropriate patient lifting equipment and devices, and procedures for reporting injuries; and
  • Program review and evaluation processes.
  • Medical management of early symptoms and injuries reported by staff.

For more information, see Worker Safety in Hospitals – Safe Patient Handling and OSHA's Safe Patient Handling Safety and Health Topics Page.

MSDs-related issues pertaining to specific hospital areas are discussed within the modules (Select the module of interest to view the guidance on MSD matters):