News & Events

Nurses reveal how patient handling is unsafe

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
December 2011 Edition

By The MNA Safe Patient Handling Task Force


Last May, the MNA hosted nearly 800 nurses at Worcester’s DCU Center for a tremendously successful one-day clinical conference. The conference provided attendees with access to a wide range of research and clinical evidence aimed at enhancing nursing practice in the commonwealth, include practice issues related to safe patient handling.

The MNA’s Safe Patient Handling Task Force has made a commitment to bring cultural changes to nurses’ consciousness, and through various forms of education and proposed legislation the MNA is aiming to enhance the safe care of patients while eliminating the risk of lift injuries for nurses. As part of the clinical conference, the Safe Patient Handling Task Force developed a questionnaire in order to obtain information about their workplace (such as education, equipment, work practices and patient assessment) as it relates to safe patient handling and the related issue of lift injuries.

This questionnaire was not set up as a survey but rather a general informational gathering tool to help determine the state of injury prevention awareness in the nurses who attended the conference. There are some limitations and assumptions made in gathering this data, such as blank spaces were considered to be “no” answers if there were “yes” answers completed in the same questionnaire. However, we believe it is indicative of some very disturbing trends in health care.

Questionnaires were distributed to 784 nurses of whom 566 responded with varying degrees of completeness. However the majority were fully completed, giving a response rate of 72 percent.

The results indicate that fewer than 12 percent of the responding Slides are predominantly the equipment type used to care for patients nurses told us they have a “No Lift Policy.” More than 85 percent of with the remainder of the equipment listed used very sparingly. There hospitals have some type of lifting device, most of which are slides for could be a number of reasons why, in order for nurses to use equipment lateral transfers. Alarmingly, 46 percent of nurses that responded have they need to have the equipment available, accessible, and be trained been injured lifting or moving a patient in the workplace. Education in its use. seems to be completed by more than 50 percent of the responders, which means that slightly less than half of nurses have not been educated.

Slides appear to be accessible which may be based on the fact that they are small and can fit into bedside tables, while there needs to be space to store the remaining equipment.

Education on lifting techniques and any equipment that may be available is primarily done annually and only 25 percent of those asked had any education at all. Approximately 18 percent received education when hired. That number increased with annual education but essentially no education occurred on transfer to another unit, even though you might go to an orthopedic or geriatric unit. Hospitals that receive new or rental equipment based on patient needs educate nurses on this equipment only 8 percent of the time in the hospitals where the nurses responded to our questionnaire.

Nurses are using slides in caring for patients but the use of slides is limited. Full body lifts are required to be used if a patient is found on the floor—either from falling while walking or from falling out of bed. According to the responders, only 53 percent of the nurses responding have a full body lift available to them for use in the workplace.

This graph reinforces that for whatever reason, nurses are not using lifting devices and at the same time large numbers are getting hurt in the workplace.

Muscular skeletal injuries frequently impair or disable a nurse from caring for patients, themselves and their families. These are devastating injuries that can be prevented by safe work practices and the use of lifting devices. Hospitals and health care systems know that investing in safe equipment is not only cost effective but the return on investment is major.

Although this questionnaire is not representative of all organizations, it is representative of many. The MNA Safe Patient Handling Task Force has developed a toolkit that explains existing work practices and how prevention is necessary to protect our most valuable resources, our nurses. It also explains the different lifts and their use in caring for patients and the importance of the initial assessment of patients in order to plan the use of safety devices. More information on a Safe Patient Handling educational program is available at the MNA Web site, at the Health and Safety page. The Division of Health and Safety acts as a resource to prevent injuries and to counsel injured nurses through the Workers Compensation process. For questions, call Peg O’Connor or Christine Pontus at 781.821.4625.