News & Events

Safe Patient Handling Bill Approved by Health Care Finance Committee

If implemented, H. 2052 will protect thousands of nurses and other health care workers from costly and debilitating skeletal/back injuries

CANTON, Mass.— A bill that could dramatically reduce costly and debilitating injuries to the state’s nurses has cleared a another hurdle as the Joint Committee on Health Care Finance voted to give H. 2052, An Act Relating to Safe Patient Handling in Certain Health Care Facilities, a favorable report.

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

Skeletal injuries have costly implications for hospitals, health care providers and insurers, and drives nurses away from the bedside. Patient safety is the primary concern at all facilities. Protecting nurses and other caregivers from injury is critical to safe patient care. In addition to the personal cost to the injured worker associated with patient handling injuries, the facility costs range from workers’ compensation payments to lost productivity to retention/personnel expenses.

Direct patient care RNs get injured from lifting, moving and repositioning their patients at a higher injury rate than that of laborers, movers, and truck drivers according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. Frequent heavy lifting and transferring of patients causes skeletal issues that debilitate 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. Nine states including California, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington have enacted similar legislation in the past two years.

“We applaud the committee for recognizing the need to provide better protections for nurses and other caregivers. This bill will have a lasting positive impact on the lives and careers of the state’s health care workforce,” said Beth Piknick, RN and president of the MNA, who became an advocate for safe patient handling legislation after experiencing a debilitating back injury that resulted from moving patients.

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.

H. 2052 calls for all health care facilities in the state to develop and implement a health care worker back injury prevention program to protect nurses and other caregivers, as well as patients, from injury. The plan would require providers to provide necessary patient handling equipment or lifting teams, as well as specialized training for health care workers on safe patient handling techniques and the use of handling equipment.