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Patient handling REG reduces musculoskeletal suffering, study finds

Nurses handling patient safely
Nurses in California hospitals report less major musculoskeletal symptoms since safe patient handling regulation came into force in 2014, according to a recently published study.
California first enacted the law in 2012 requiring general acute care hospitals to establish a plan to protect health care workers from back and musculoskeletal injuries, while also safeguarding patients. An enforceable workplace standard outlining specific requirements for safe patient handling (SPH) pursuant to this legislation took effect in October 2014. This standard includes comprehensive training and annual refresher training for health care workers (and supervisors) responsible for patient handling. Awareness training is also mandatory for others without direct responsibility for patient handling.
The study, entitled “Impact of California’s Safe Patient Handling Legislation on Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention Among Nurses”, compared data from a random baseline survey of California registered nurses in 2013 versus follow up data collected in 2016. 

Positive policy and health outcomes

In 2013, one year after the legislation was enacted, but before the enforceable standard was put in place, survey results suggested only one in five hospitals had a SPH policy.
Just three years later, major improvements were reported. Almost 87 per cent of hospitals now have SPH policies – a four-fold increase. More nurses also have access to mechanical lifts on their units – up almost 20 per cent, from 61 per cent to 80 per cent. While access to ceiling lifts doubled from just 12 per cent to 24 per cent. Further, three-quarters of nurses surveyed in 2016 had been trained, an increase of almost 10 per cent.
Most important, significant decreases were observed for four major musculoskeletal symptoms suffered by nurses, specifically, injuries of the lower back, neck, hands and wrists.

Barriers to safe lifting remain

Unfortunately, California nurses reported the frequency of lift use showed little change between 2013 and 2016. Nurse perceptions of the associated hazards they faced also remained significant.  Commenting on this situation the researchers observe, “Our findings suggest that SPH programs might not have sufficiently addressed the barriers to lift use such as time burden and staffing.”
The researchers conclude by calling for further interventions to address ongoing concerns of nurses and to remove barriers to safe patient handling. They also observe worker involvement and input is crucial to the implementation of any SPH policy.

Ontario workers without REG protection

Musculoskeletal pain and disorders are by far and away the primary type of injury suffered by health care workers in California and here in Ontario, with almost half caused by patient handling. Despite this, Ontario nurses and others employed in health care remain without the specific protection of enforceable safe patient handling or broader ergonomic standards.
Beyond health care, workers in most sectors of the Ontario economy are suffering musculoskeletal pain and disorders (MSDs) more than any other class of injury also without regulatory protection.
These injuries often have devastating, life-altering outcomes for workers. However, the cost for employers and the Canadian economy is no small matter either. Total estimated costs run as high as $22 billion annually. These costs can include short and long-term disability, increased workers’ compensation premiums, asbsenteeism and presenteeism, along with worker turnover.

Education for action on RSI Awareness Day

The need for safe patient handling and wider ergonomic regulation continue to be an important message delivered at events recognizing the International Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day, held annually on the last day of February. On this day, special events will occur in several communities to build awareness and promote action on MSDs, also commonly known as RSIs, and their impact on workers, their families and the community.
On this the 20th anniversary of RSI Awareness Day, many will also sponsor ergonomics training programs. Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC) offers several programs in support of RSI Awareness Day and workplace prevention initiatives every day.
WHSC can help your workplace too. To learn more, be sure to download and share:
WHSC patient handling fact sheet
WHSC ergonomics resources
WHSC product sheet featuring all WHSC ergonomics training.
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Call: 1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training service representative, or