Healthcare News & Insights

Hospitals may have to adopt new safe lifting policies

Nurses face the risk of extreme physical injury every day as they lift and transport hospital patients. Now, a new bill floating around in Congress may require facilities to invest in equipment and create policies that’ll keep nurses safe from harm. 

ThinkstockPhotos-469617799Musculoskeletal injuries are all too common for nurses, and the frequency at which they occur makes nursing a fairly dangerous profession.

In fact, according to recent federal occupational safety statistics from the Bureau for Labor Statistics, registered nurses are sixth when ranking occupations that have musculoskeletal injuries severe enough to miss days of work.

And nursing assistants have the second highest incidence of these injuries out of all professions.

Neck, back and arm injuries in nurses can leave hospitals short-staffed and scrambling to treat patients, which can negatively impact the quality of care they provide.

And the physical toll these injuries take on nurses’ bodies has an even bigger impact over time. Many nurses complain of having chronic back pain – often severe enough for them to take extended leave from work, or quit working as nurses entirely.

But the Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2015 (H.R. 4266/S.2408), which was introduced in December, may change all that.

Terms of proposed bill

Sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), the bill aims to create national safety standards that would prohibit hospitals from allowing nurses to manually lift patients. Hospitals would also be required to implement safe patient handling practices and educate all workers on their policies.

Specifically, hospitals would have to purchase enough mechanical lifts so that nurses wouldn’t have to transport, lift or reposition patients without assistance from the equipment.

Facilities would also have to keep close tabs on their safe patient handling programs. Besides regularly training workers on best practices, hospitals will also have to keep track of any cases where protocol weren’t followed.

The results of all investigations into these incidents must be kept on file and made available to interested parties (such as healthcare workers and the feds) upon request for at least five years.

Safety on all sides

According to the results of one study, cited in a Huffington Post article written by Rep. Conyers, the maximum safe amount of weight for a person to lift on a regular basis is only 35 pounds.

Nurses regularly lift patients who weigh hundreds of pounds on their own, which underscores the need for hospitals to place more focus on creating and enforcing safe patient handling policies.

Not only would this keep nurses from being injured, it’d also be safer for patients, per the text of the bill. It’d reduce the risk of skin tears and pressure ulcers patients experience in the hospital. And it also decreases the likelihood that a patient will be accidentally dropped.

If the law passes, we’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to evaluate your current policies for safe patient handling to double-check that they’re up to par – and to review your budget to see if your hospital can purchase additional mechanical lift equipment.

Preparing now means you’ll be ahead of the curve later. Plus it can save your nurses a lot of pain and injuries, which has many positive effects on how well your facility operates.

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