The study, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, looked at 1,832 health care workers at two U.S. hospitals – one that had implemented a safer handling program and one that did not. At the facility that adopted the safer patient handling policy, the risk of shoulder and neck injuries among workers dropped by nearly a third in the 12 months after the policies were put in place. In that same time frame, the chances of exertion and lifting injuries fell by 27 percent. Additionally, the chances of inflammation and pain among workers dropped by 22 percent.
Meanwhile, the facility that did not adopt the patient safe handling policy did not see any marked change in the risk of injury over time.
The head researcher of the study, from Northeastern University in Boston, said that the takeaway here is the goal of keeping patients safer aligns with the goal of keeping workers safer. He encouraged other hospitals to work on making it a priority in order to see similar gains.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there are more than 18 million workers in the health care sector, and it’s one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. economy. Women represent about 80 percent of those in this field, which involves a wide range of injuries, including:
- Back injuries
- Needlestick injuries
- Latex allergy illnesses
- Exposure to substances
- Slips, trips, and falls
- Stress-related illness
The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) reports hospitals counted nearly 60,000 work-related injuries and illnesses that caused hospital employees to miss work in a single recent year. In terms of time lost rates, it’s actually more dangerous to work in a hospital than it is to work in construction or manufacturing, which are typically seen as the most hazardous work environments. Hospital workers have 157.5 cases of missed work per 10,000 full-time workers, versus the construction industry, which has 147.4, and manufacturing, which has 111.8. The U.S. average for private industry is 105.2. It’s worth noting that these figures are actually an underestimation of the problem because they only consider work injuries or illnesses that result in actual time off work, rather than less severe injuries that could result in modified duties.
Almost half of the injuries that resulted in days away were due to overexertion – such as lifting, bending, and reaching. These almost always relate to patient handling. And that’s what makes the results of this latest study so valuable.
Researchers noted that the two hospitals compared had, prior to the implementation of the safety program at one of them, pretty marginal success in limiting work injuries, even though they had invested in some lifting devices and swings. The hospital with the new program added more equipment to inpatient care rooms. These included sit-to-stand devices, slings, lifts, and air-assisted lateral transfer devices. Some of the equipment was designed to help when health workers are moving obese patients. The older lifts could accommodate up to 625 pounds, while the newer devices could accommodate up to 1,000 pounds.
These efforts were initially undertaken as a way for the hospital to lower costs, based on ample research that showed getting patients up and moving around faster can result in swifter recovery and fewer complications.
Protecting the safety of workers, though, is another cost benefit, since it reduces the number of workers’ compensation claims.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Safe patient handling linked to fewer worker injuries, Nov. 4, 2016, Reuters
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