News & Events

Cooley Dickinson RNs use NIOSH stats for safe patient handling advocacy

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
February/March 2011 Edition

By Sally Surgen, RN
Chairperson, Cooley Dickinson Hospital

While doing some online research last summer for a workers’ compensation issue, I came across testimony by Capt. James Collins of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) given before Congress on May 11, 2010. He provided testimony specific to the issue of safe patient handling.

As part of his testimony, NIOSH investigated musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in health care workers and found that they experience these types of injuries at a far greater rate than other workers. NIOSH also develops and evaluates interventions to prevent such injuries. One area of focus is to prevent lifting injuries in the health care setting. Of major concern is the obesity epidemic and the age of the nursing population. Collins explained that MSDs that result from patient handling are due to the high internal forces created in the spine when a person lifts a heavy object. Health care workers are at greater risk because of the type of lifting they do. A patient may be far away from us or on a bed where the major lifting is done with the upper body, and repeated lifting of this type results in scarring that causes more damage.

Because of this, “NIOSH recommends that no caregiver should manually lift more than 35 pounds of a person’s body weight for a vertical lifting task. NIOSH further recommends that when the weight to be lifted exceeds this limit, assistive devices should be used.”

I brought this information to our labor management meeting and, after several months of discussion and investigation, they have agreed to change the lift requirement in our job description from 50 to 35 pounds. We are hoping that this, along with the new lifts that were recently purchased, will prevent MSDs in our nurses as we so gracefully age.