Posted June 27, 2022
  • | Safe Patient Handling

Navigating the Safe Patient Handling Movement

A call to protect frontline healthcare workers from frequent injury spurred the safe patient handling movement. Learn about tools and policies to protect clinicians.

Safe Patient Handling (SPH). What is it? As the name suggests, Safe patient handling is the process of using assistive devices to ensure patients can be mobilized safely but also exists to prevent caregiver injury by restricting high-risk lifting tasks. The movement gained traction when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that healthcare workers had surpassed the construction industry for the most job-related injuries. And with a workforce that was already experiencing shortages before Covid-19, the country couldn’t afford to lose any more caregivers due to injury. But, how to tackle the problem was the question.

Mastering proper body mechanics is wise but that alone will not prevent staff injuries. Repeated manual lifting, transferring and patient repositioning can cause micro-injuries to the back and spine. And over time these small tears can lead to debilitating musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs can affect muscles, nerves and tendons in the lower back, neck and shoulders. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The potential for injury is vast. 

Nurses are at risk. But so are nursing assistants and aides. Most of the injuries resulting in lost workdays occurred while performing direct patient care. But patients have to be turned, so what can be done? Let the strong people reposition the patients, right? Not necessarily. The strong and the healthy are often called upon to do all of the heavy lifting, but this population of clinicians can still get hurt. It’s estimated that back injuries alone cost the healthcare industry close to $20 billion annually. Twenty billion! 

There had to be a significant shift in the paradigm to help stop the trend of healthcare injuries. Legislation in the 90s and early 2000s brought the severity of nursing staff injuries to the forefront, but widespread adoption of these policies has been slow. Eleven states, however, did enact laws designed to protect the healthcare worker from injury. Upping the ante on safe patient handling, some also have adopted ‘Zero-Lift Programs,’ setting the weightlifting maximum at 35 pounds. These no-lift policies mandated that mechanical lifts or manual assist turn aids be implemented to ensure safety among staff. In doing so, the estimated reduction in staff injuries could soar to 95%. That’s worth it. 

But SPH policies only work if they are followed, and they’re just not always easy to monitor. At the very least, a successful program needs buy-in from the top but should also solicit input from the frontline workers. Empower those providing direct patient care. Side benefits from successful safe patient handling include positive work environments, decreased patient injuries and nursing retention. 

Seek out patient turning and repositioning systems strategically crafted to live under the patient. Nurses are more inclined to use products that they don’t have to hunt for. And they shouldn’t be collateral damage in good patient care. Click to discover safe and easy patient repositioning products to complement any safe patient handling initiative.