Safe lifting can protect life and health


Safe lifting is an important aspect of home health care.


More families are choosing home health care for their aging loved ones, bringing higher visibility to patient care techniques. Caregivers in the home must have the same knowledge and training in lifting and transferring patients as those in institutional settings.

Whether a patient has mobility limitations due to medical issues, physical disabilities or the normal aging process, caregivers should use proper transfer techniques to protect both the patient and the caregiver from injury. This may include use of a mechanical lift device.

According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration statistics, more than 50 percent of injuries and illnesses reported in 2013 among nursing assistants were musculoskeletal disorders.

The agency also found that “direct and indirect costs associated with only back injuries in the healthcare industry are estimated to be $20 billion annually. In addition, healthcare employees who experience pain and fatigue may be less productive, less attentive, more susceptible to further injury and may be more likely to affect the health and safety of others.”

The American Nurses Association research on the impact of musculoskeletal injuries among nurses found:

  • 52 percent complaining of chronic back pain
  • 12 percent of nurses “leaving for good” because of back pain as main contributory factor
  • 20 percent transferring to a different unit, position or employment because of lower back pain and 12 percent considering leaving the profession
  • 38 percent suffering occupational-related back pain severe enough to require leave from work
  • 6 percent, 8 percent and 11 percent of registered nurses reporting even changing jobs for neck, shoulder and back problems, respectively

Although there are few studies showing consequences to patients from falls caused by improper transfer techniques, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports:

  • One in four people 65 and older fall each year
  • Every 20 minutes an older adult dies from a fall
  • One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as head trauma or fractures

The use of patient transfer devices is essential given the needs to improve the safety of the healthcare employee and to improve the quality of care for patients. A safe patient move using a transfer device provides more comfort, dignity and positive outcomes.

The FDA has created a Patient Lift Safety Guide to help convey these practices to home health care employees. Additional information on employee safety can be found at OSHA – Safe Patient Handling.

A summary of some best practices:

  • Complete and document a formal review and assessment of equipment before selecting the transfer devices to be used.
  • Train employees in advance of using the specific equipment, after any changes in equipment or after any incidents.
  • Have employees assess patients prior to transfer to assure they are willing to be transferred and haven’t had changes in their physical, medical or mental status that could jeopardize the safety of the lift.
  • Inspect lifts and slings carefully for signs of deterioration in material or mechanical issues. The device must be in good working order and tested prior to each use.
  • Choose equipment to match the characteristics of the lift, movement and patient.
  • Plan the lift environment prior to lift to consider obstacles, floor surface, height and route of travel.
  • Put in writing a process for caring for and disinfecting slings, then follow it. Remove from service and dispose of any worn or damaged slings.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for equipment maintenance and inspection, and document all incidents.

This loss control information is advisory only. The authors assume no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. See your local, independent insurance agent for advice on coverages and liability.

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