News & Events

Safe Patient Handling Legislation gets Favorable Vote from Joint Committee on Public Health

If implemented, H. 2662 will save money and protect thousands of nurses from skeletal/back injuries

CANTON, Mass. — On March 1, the Joint Committee on Public Health voted favorably on H. 2662, An Act Relating to Safe Patient Handling in Certain Health Care Facilities.

The bill, which was filed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) and sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Callahan (D-Sutton), would require hospitals to provide a system to assist nurses with safe patient handling in order to avoid injury.

Skeletal injuries have costly implications for hospitals, health care providers and insurers while driving nurses away from the bedside. While patient safety is a primary concern at all facilities, protecting nurses also is paramount. In addition to the personal cost to the injured worker, the facility costs range from workers’ compensation payments to lost productivity to retention/personnel expenses.

Frequent heavy lifting and transferring of patients is causing skeletal issues that are debilitating nurses, driving them from the bedside and exacerbating the shortage of nurses willing to work in the acute care setting. Shockingly, the cumulative weight lifted by a nurse in one typical 8-hour shift is equivalent to 1.8 tons.

This issue is gaining more and more attention across the country. Four states including New York, Ohio, Texas and California have enacted similar legislation in the past two years. This session, six other states have filed legislation.

“The MNA recognized the need for this legislation and it acted quickly to draft and file an outstanding bill?one that would have a powerful, lasting effect on the lives of the state’s nurses” said Beth Piknick, RN and president of the MNA. “We’re thrilled to know that the Joint Committee on Public Health has recognized this need as well and that H. 2662 is now one step closer to becoming a law.”

The Dangers of Unsafe Lifting Practices
Nursing is the highest risk occupation in the United States with respect to lifting and handling-related injuries. It is the profession most associated with work-related musculoskeletal disorders and back injuries. Injury data show that nearly 12 out of 100 nurses in hospitals and 17.3 out of 100 nurses working in nursing homes report work-related musculoskeletal injuries, including back injuries, which is about double the rate for all other industries combined.

Nurses, nursing assistants, orderlies and attendants are at an increased risk for back injuries because of the amount of heavy lifting associated with their occupation. On average, a nurse will lift 20 patients into bed and transfer 5-10 patients from a bed to a chair during a typical shift (Allen, S., & Wilder, K., 1996; Occupational Health & Safety.) Patients typically weigh in excess of 100 pounds, which greatly surpasses the weight that is considered safe to lift without assistance.

Greater than one-third of back injuries among nurses are attributed to the handling of patients and the frequency with which nurses are required to manually move patients. “Nurses lift, move and turn patients who might easily weigh 250 pounds or more on an hourly basis, and most would consider a 100-pound patient to be ‘light’,” said Piknick, who became an advocate for safe patient handling legislation after experiencing a debilitating back injury that resulted from moving patients.

“But despite the fact that other industries follow lifting regulations to the letter, the nursing industry has been overlooked. We’re going to change that,” Piknick added. “H. 2662 is the key to protecting nurses and to reducing the system-wide costs that are spent on treating nurses who are debilitated by otherwise preventable muscular skeletal injuries.”

H. 2662: The Specifics
H. 2662 calls for an approach that would require all health care facilities in the state to develop and implement a health care worker back injury prevention plan to protect nurses and other caregivers, as well as patients, from injury. The plan would mandate the following:

  • A systematic process in each facility for addressing ergonomics, recognizing occupational health and safety hazards, and preventing injuries specific in each health care facility.
  • Needs assessment by facilities of patients’ lift and transfer requirements and resulting handling, lift and equipment needs.
  • Specialized training of health care workers and lift team members by qualified personnel, with demonstration of proficiency in handling techniques and use of handling equipment.
  • Protection of workers against disciplinary action for refusal to lift or handle patients due to concerns about patient and worker safety.

“As an ICU nurse, I suffered a career-altering back injury,” said Piknick. “Two decades of lifting, transferring and moving patients resulted in major spinal fusion surgery to repair three discs in my back. The simple love of my profession was not enough to allow me to continue the type of bedside nursing I used to do. But the passage of H. 2662 will prevent this from happening to any other nurses in Massachusetts.”