Nurses Press for New Patient-Handling Regulations



Nurse Becky

America’s obesity epidemic has spread beyond overweight people who put themselves at risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke; now, the nation’s runaway weight problem has serious consequences for healthcare workers who must lift and move overweight patients when they cannot move on their own.

Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control confirm that the “average” American is over-weight, and the population is still packing-on excess pounds. Robert Longley reports, “Average adult Americans are a whopping 25 pounds heavier than they were in 1960. Average BMI has increased among adults from approximately 25 in 1960 to 28 in 2002.” BMI above 25 is the clinical standard for obesity. The BMI numbers translate to 191 lbs for the average American male and 165 for the average American woman. Therefore, if four female nurses “team lift” an ordinary man or woman from a gurney to a bed, each of them exceeds the OSHA lifting limit of 35 lbs.

Given the exigencies of everyday hospital operations, nurses more often violate the OSHA weight limit than ask for extra help. Amy Williamson, workplace safety coordinator for Baptist Hospital in Nashville, tells USA Today , “In the course of an eight-hour day, a nurse will typically lift 1.8 tons, which is pretty astronomical.” Follow-up studies indicate a nurse’s total daily lifting is up to 10 times that of commercial construction workers and workers at home improvement retailers, the two professions with exceptionally high rates of lift-related injuries.

In the wake of nurses’ record-high numbers of back injuries and workers’ compensation claims for knee, shoulder and joint problems, the American Nurses Association has launched a major initiative to update patient-handling requirements and assure their strict enforcement in America’s hospitals.

California leads reforms.

A model for other states’ new patient-handling regulations, California’s Employment Safety and Health Facilities Act (AB1136)…
Cites background data that inspired the legislation, including first and foremost the Legislature’s acknowledgement that injuries to healthcare workers accounted for 11 percent of California’s musculo-skeletal injuries in 2008 and 99 percent of those injuries came as a result of overexertion.

Amends the California Occupational Safety and Health Act and requires employers’ development, implementation and enforcement of safe patient-handling policies for all their units. The amended OSHA act also mandates properly trained staff and specially skilled lift teams in every general hospital and acute care facility.

Requires employers to phase-out manual lifting and transfer of patients, and it specifies they must replace obsolete lifting procedures with power-assisted lifting devices and specially trained lift teams.

Mandates employers’ adoption of comprehensive patient-handling plans and standard operating procedures which assure patients’ safety while making special provisions for doctors’, nurses’, orderlies’ and other professionals’ protection against musculo-skeletal injuries.

Redefines crimes and torts to assure local governments’ compliance with and enforcement of the statewide mandate for healthcare workers’ protection against musculo-skeletal injuries.

Nashville Baptist Hospital makes the case.

Under nurse Mary Ann Baylor’s direction, Nashville Baptist Hospital launched its own back injury prevention program which includes all the elements of California’s law and adds a buddy system. Tom Wilemon, reporter for the Nashville Tennessean, writes, “The buddy approach — matching up a new user with someone skilled at using the lift devices — boosted compliance. Baptist wound up reducing its patient handling injuries by more than 74 percent from 2008 to 2011.” Baylor herself exults, “We have not had any injuries since our pilot. It’s really a team project. We buddy up so that whenever we are using the lift, the chance of injury is nil.”

About the Author:

Ashley Stevens writes full-time for education blogs nationwide. If you’re interested in a career in health care, you might consider an online masters in nursing, like those programs offered by Ohio University and Georgetown University.

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