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5 Safe Patient Handling & Mobility Guidelines For Long-Term Care Providers

Written by: Michael Fragala, PhD, MBA, RN, WCC, CSPHP, AMS

Healthcare providers in long-term care are constantly faced with challenges around safe patient handling and mobility (SPHM). To help residents remain safe in their environment, it is important to be proactive about incorporating safe patient handling best practices into everyday workplace responsibilities.

With evolving healthcare regulations and other industry-related changes, new approaches are being developed to make sure that safe patient handling best practices become integrated into daily job responsibilities.

What is Safe Patient Handling and Mobility?

Safe patient handling and mobility is a strategic approach to reduce the manual stress associated with moving, repositioning, and transferring patients. Developed by safety experts, SPHM promotes using assistive devicestechnology, and training to keep healthcare teams safe.

Musculoskeletal injuries are a large problem in the healthcare industry, with front-line staff disproportionately affected. In a study by the American Nurses Association, over 62% of nurses surveyed reported falling victim to lower back injuries. These preventable injuries cost an estimated $25 billion each year. To mitigate this public health issue, OSHA along with numerous industry safety experts developed SPHM guidelines to reduce the amount of physical strain involved in moving patients who suffer from limited mobility.

Commonly Used Safe Patient Handling and Mobility Terms

It’s essential to understand the terminology around safe patient handling and mobility to ensure effective evidence-based interventions are implemented. Here is a short list of commonly used terms associated with SPHM.

  • Culture of Safety: A commitment from doctors, nurses, and administrative staff at each facility to allow all employees to report unsafe incidents and falls so that a better strategy can be devised.
  • Ergonomics: Scientific strategies to reduce strain, stress, and injury associated with the workplace.
  • Lifting Equipment: Devices and machinery that reduce manual lifting by assisting both caretakers and patients while performing tasks that require movement.
  • Manual Handling: Moving, lifting, or shifting patients without assistance or machinery. OSHA guidelines recommend caretakers avoid this action as much as possible.

Common Patient Handling Hazards in Long-Term Care

Patient handling hazards are a daunting issue that has become increasingly prevalent in the healthcare industry due to increased patient weight. The physical demands on caregivers required to lift patients can be incredibly taxing on their bodies, leading to overexertion, chronic pain, or injury if done incorrectly.

The threat of harm has led many professionals to leave the industry out of fear for their personal health. Common patient handling hazards include:

  • Strained muscles or joints
  • Sprains
  • Falls from lifting or carrying
  • Needle sticks
  • Violence from aggressive patients or their loved ones
  • Slips on wet surfaces
  • Slipped discs
  • Broken bones

With the physical demands of long-term care becoming more strenuous, it is absolutely vital that technological solutions are introduced to help with patient care. Patient transfer and lifting devices have been proven to be a crucial part of minimizing the high risks associated with the movement of patients.

SPHM technology not only reduces the likelihood of serious patient injury but can also help protect care providers from developing injuries over time. For long-term care to remain sustainable and safe for both patients and care providers, safe patient handling program best practices must be properly followed.

Safe Patient Handling Ergonomics

Ergonomics are essential in long-term care settings to ensure that both patients and care providers feel comfortable, safe, and secure during patient handling tasks. Ergonomic design helps to minimize injuries from incorrect lifting techniques, resulting in improved safety for healthcare workers and enhanced patient mobility.

Research suggests that such designs can also reduce costs around time off from work and fewer work-related accidents overall. Ergonomically designed patient lifting and movement equipment also help to streamline processes, leading to increased efficiency and quality of care.

5 Safe Patient Handling & Mobility Guidelines for Long-Term Care

Below are some ways facilities can implement safe patient handling and mobility strategies. These strategies have been proven to reduce the potential risks of injury associated with improper lifting or other incorrect practices.

Following these simple protocols ensures the highest level of safe patient handling and mobility while helping prevent injuries related to manual patient handling for healthcare professionals.

Provide Leadership Guidance and Support

Administration and management are essential to workforce safety and health. It’s highly important that leadership teams provide front-line workers with guidance, resources, and consistent follow-up to meet patient safety goals.

Effectively communicating safe work environment objectives backed by an unwavering commitment to prioritize safety initiatives is key to a high-performance SPHM program. When these elements come together, healthcare teams have a greater chance of achieving success within a safe environment.

Make Seeking Safe Patient Handling Solutions a Collaborative Effort

Bringing together the knowledge of front-line personnel is key to a successful safe patient handling and mobility program. Working collaboratively unlocks creative solutions, increases team morale, and drives up job satisfaction while encouraging smooth transitions when it comes time for a change. Having insight from those on the floor helps pinpoint incident triggers efficiently and effectively.

Identify Ergonomic Concerns and Implement Solutions

Before implementing a safe patient handling and mobility program you’ll need to uncover any potential workplace hazards by analyzing comprehensive reports.

Start by analyzing reports of workers’ compensation claims, accident and near-miss investigation reports, insurance company reports, employee interviews, employee surveys, and reviews and observations of workplace conditions. If this task proves too big to be tackled internally, hire data service professionals to look for patterns of data that could help detect chronic incidents associated with job responsibilities.

Create a Plan to Address Reported Injuries Efficiently

Even with a high-performing SPHM program, injuries and illnesses may occur. Working long hours often puts long-term care teams in danger of developing chronic conditions like musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Both patients and providers can benefit from early reporting of MSDs. Proactively recognizing and addressing injuries as they occur can help care teams remain healthy while minimizing associated expenses.

Provide Comprehensive Safe Patient Handling and Mobility Training

Proper SPHM training is essential to ensure all staff members are equipped with the necessary knowledge to identify ergonomics issues in the workplace. This education helps care teams spot root causes of strain and fatigue to modify job requirements and apply safer practices.

Investing in proper ergonomic education for all team members offers a significant return on investment as it helps build a strong foundation for greater performance, resilience, and work satisfaction.

Evaluate the Effectiveness of Ergonomics Efforts

For ergonomics initiatives to remain effective, it’s important to regularly evaluate progress and take swift action when problems arise. Creating feedback loops provides invaluable insight into where current successes can be further optimized and help uncover potential areas of opportunity.

Prioritizing Safe Patient Handling and Mobility in Your Facilities

Safe patient handling and mobility is a set of best practices and strategies to reduce the risk of injury to healthcare workers while caring for patients. The goal of SPHM is to protect both patients and care teams from injuries related to lifting, moving, and repositioning patients. By following these guidelines, providers can help reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries among their staff.

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