Lifting a senior citizen from the bed and putting him or her into a wheelchair might take only a couple of minutes. But in that short span, you could suffer an injury that could plague you for an extended period and may require you to seek South Carolina workers’ compensation benefits.
This is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has put together a new brochure, “Safe Patient Handling: Preventing Musculoskeletal Disorders in Nursing Homes.”
The brochure does not target patients but rather employees in nursing homes and residential care facilities who are most likely to hurt themselves through repetitive and awkward lifting of heavy objects, including people.
Lifting Often Leads to Musculoskeletal Injuries
Musculoskeletal injuries are the primary injury in the health-care industry, according to OSHA. This new brochure is designed to increase awareness and show employees how to protect themselves from the risk of suffering this type of work injury, Dr. David Michaels, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor, said in an OSHA press release.
In fact, health-care employees have some of the nation’s highest rates of non-fatal injuries and illnesses, OSHA reports. In 2012, these workers reported twice as many injuries and illnesses as workers in the construction trade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The most common injuries are muscle strains, low back and rotator cuff injuries and tendinitis. These conditions may arise from tasks that must be done repeatedly throughout the work day at a nursing home or other residential care facility.
Myth vs. Facts
OSHA debunks some common myths about safe patient handling in its brochure. Examples include:
“Mechanical lifting is not as safe and comfortable for patients as manual lifting.”
In fact, OSHA reports, mechanical lifts are actually safer for patients and workers, and patients will accept them when they understand their ease and comfort.
“Training and use of proper body mechanics (including use of back belts) is effective in preventing job-related injuries.”
In reality, there is no fool-proof method for lifting patients manually, OSHA says. Also, using back belts and proper lifting technique is not the best way to avoid injuries.
“You don’t need to worry about patient-handling injuries if your workers are healthy and have never had a problem.”
Manual lifting actually can cause spinal micro-injuries that accumulate over a period of time and lead to a debilitating injury, OSHA says. Lifts should be limited to 35 pounds, experts say, and the strongest and healthiest workers are at greatest risk because they are most likely to be asked to help with lifting patients.
Safety Programs are Needed to Protect Workers
Starting a successful safe patient handling program requires commitment from the entire facility staff.
It begins with an assessment of the areas where workers are at greatest risk and takes ideas from employees to determine how they can do their jobs without being injured, OSHA says.
Technology and facility design also must focus on a safe work environment. For instance, lifting equipment reduces exposure to lifting injuries by 95 percent, according to OSHA.
Education and training are vital to safety programs to ensure frontline workers understand the importance of protecting themselves and how to avoid getting hurt. Programs must also be evaluated regularly to make sure they are working.
Only by changing the culture within the nursing home and residential care industry can musculoskeletal injuries be reduced. But until every facility and individual accepts the seriousness of this problem, injuries will persist.
If you are hurt while working in a nursing home or residential care facility, you should contact an experienced attorney who can help you to determine if you are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits and who can guide you through the process of obtaining them.