News & Events

Safe patient handling: successful Australian approach to reducing nurse injuries

MNA bill would minimize manual lifting of patients

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
March 2006 Edition

  Safe patient lifting techniques

Compared to other occupations, nurses continue to number among the highest at risk of musculoskeletal injury. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gives RNs the dubious distinction of first place for workers compensation claims from back injury.

Massachusetts could learn from the recent remarkable success of Australian health care facilities in reducing the number of nurses injured while handling patients. Anne Hudson, BSN, of the Work Injured Nurses’ Group USA ( reported recently after participating in the Australian Nursing Federation’s (ANF) “No Lifting Expo,” held in November 2005 in Melbourne, Victoria.

“After years of talking with injured American nurses about their struggle to obtain medical care when they lose their health insurance along with their job, it was sobering to learn recently of the Australian health care system which provides medical care apart from one’s employment or financial status” […in addition to introducing policies to help prevent injuries in the first place]. 

The group’s “No Lifting Policy,” which has proven greatly effective in reducing nursing staff injuries, lost days, worker’s compensation (“WorkCover”) claims, and millions of dollars in the cost of claims, is supported by firm national manual handling regulations in Australia.

“No Lifting” facilities in Australia use Louise O’Shea’s “No Lift System” (see in 85 percent of Victorian public health care facilities and in over 250 health care facilities throughout Australia and New Zealand. This system is based on the use of specially-designed slide sheets and unique patient movement techniques developed by O’Shea, in addition to mechanical floor and overhead ceiling lift equipment.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association has drafted related legislation, H.2662, “An Act Relating to Safe Patient Handling in Certain Health Facilities.” The MNA bill would require all health care facilities, including but not limited to acute care hospitals, psychiatric hospitals and nursing homes, to develop and implement a health care worker back injury prevention plan so that manual lifting of patients is minimized in all cases and eliminated when feasible. It also requires the facilities to conduct needs assessments to evaluate lift and transfer needs, resources and capabilities; to implement safe patient handling policies; to provide specialized training in techniques for lifting and transferring patients; and it would prohibit the discipline of employees who refuse to lift patients due to concerns about worker and patient safety.

As of January 2006, some form of safe lifting legislation has been enacted in three states: Texas (the first state to enact legislation), Ohio and New York. Legislation has also been introduced in six other states (Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, Iowa, Minnesota and California).

Worth noting is that Washington’s safe patient handling law is the first legislation in the U.S. to require hospitals to provide mechanical equipment for the safe lifting/movement of patients.

If you would like more information about MNA’s work on this issue please contact Christine Pontus, associate director of nursing, at 781.830.5754.

For more information on the MNA legislative agenda, visit out MNA Bills page.