Survey Says: Injuries from Lifting Patients Lead Nurses, X-Ray Techs to Quit

April 6, 2006
Unless something is done to help nurses and other health care workers safely lift patients without suffering injuries and chronic pain, the severe shortage of health care workers is likely to get much worse, according to the results of a survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Healthcare.

The national survey was the first of its kind to expose the problem of career-ending injuries. Out of the 509 nurses and 404 radiology technicians that were interviewed, 56 percent of the nurses and 64 percent of X-ray technicians have suffered lifting-related injuries, chronic pain or both, according to survey results. In addition, nearly half the nurses and nearly one-third of the X-ray technicians said they were considering leaving patient care because of injuries or chronic pain.

"Imagine lifting 200 pounds or more of dead weight by yourself several times a day. That's a typical day for nurses and X-ray techs, and it's becoming unbearable," said Candice Owley, chair, AFT Healthcare. "Construction workers use cranes, package delivery personnel use dollies, yet most healthcare workers are on their own and getting hurt. This is affecting patient care and the profession."

Health care workers also have complained of other workplace problems that have them thinking about leaving the healthcare industry. Hospitals and other health care facilities are facing acute worker shortages because of conditions that include inadequate staffing, mandatory overtime and insufficient support from administration. Survey results indicated that health care workers now identify physical demands and inadequate staffing levels as the biggest problems.

The state of Washington was the first state to mandate safe patient-handling and Rhode Island has recently introduced legislation to the House and Senate. Once passed into law, the legislation would require that " ... each licensed health care facility shall ... implement a safe patient-handling policy for all shifts and units of the facility that will achieve elimination of manual lifting, transferring and repositioning of all or most of a patient's weight, except in emergency, life-threatening or otherwise exceptional circumstances ... "

A new training program developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in partnership with the American Nurses Association may be a temporary solution. Called the Safe Patient Movement and Handling program (SPH&M), it was designed to reduce the number and severity of health care musculoskeletal disorders and reduce the vulnerability of patients to injuries that can be incurred when they are moved.

According to the program's developers, SPH&M will be part of nurses training and replace manual lifting instruction with safe patient-handling and movement principles.

The program is currently in place in 26 nursing schools around the country.

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