Surgical Suite » Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders

Transferring Patients to and from the Operating Table

Surgical staff may need considerable support and assistance to move patients onto or off of operating tables.


  • Pushing or pulling to position gurneys and wheelchairs prior to transferring patients can require exertion of significant force, especially when dealing with bariatric (obese) patients or poorly maintained wheels and casters.
  • Assuming awkward postures such as bending, twisting or reaching when moving patients from gurneys to the operating table. Awkward postures, especially when combined with the exertion of force, increase the risk of injury to the back, shoulders, and lower and upper extremities.
  • Using significant force when lifting bariatric patients from gurneys increases the risk of injury to the back and shoulders.

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.

  • Use mechanical powered transfer devices such as lifts or hoists to move patients (especially bariatric or non-ambulatory) from gurneys and in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU).
  • Use an air mattress for lateral patient transfers between the gurney and operating table.
  • When appropriate, use multi-use devices such as chairs that can open up into beds. These allow patients to move from a sitting position to a prone position without transfer.
  • Train staff in the use of adjustable height beds and use fixtures to support patient limbs, pannus, and staff in prolonged operations.
  • Use additional employees to assist in moving and transferring patients if:
    • A mechanical powered device is not available.
    • Awkward postures must be used.
    • Push force exceeds about 50 pounds.

Additional Information