Safe-lift programs require commitment

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

It’s no surprise that long-term care (LTC) facilities incur work-related injury rates that are greater than many other industries and that back injuries are a major component to workers compensation claims. These injuries are often triggered when workers are in the process of lifting and moving residents.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, LTC facilities had an injury rate of 8.4 per 100 full-time equivalent workers in 2009-or more than twice the rate for all private industries. While employing mechanical lifting devices at LTC facilities is a primary factor in addressing the increasing number of workplace injuries, a recent study by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) and the University of Maryland School of Medicine suggests that the attitudes of key personnel are an important factor in the reduction of workers compensation costs related to these injuries.

In the study, directors of nursing (DONs) in 200 facilities that had been using mechanical lifting for a minimum of three years were questioned. Using statistical modeling, researchers aimed to measure the effect of having a mechanical lift in the community and other variables on workers compensation claims. According to NCCI, the original intent was to compare facilities with and without safe-lift programs, but the survey results indicate that by the end of the survey period, close to 95% of facilities had powered mechanical lifts and close to 80% routinely used them. Consequently, the focus shifted from whether facilities had safe-lift programs to implementation of the program.

Research showed that an increased emphasis on safe-lift programs at LTC facilities is associated with fewer workplace injuries and lower workers compensation costs. That is, the facility’s commitment to effectively implementing a safe-lift program appears to be the key to success.

Having a comprehensive set of policies and procedures regarding powered mechanical lifts is a critical component in a safe-lift program. “These include having procedures specifying that powered mechanical lifts should be used for residents not able to move around on their own,” the researchers said. “Specifying the use of powered mechanical lifts in the residents’ care plans is also important. Training newly hired CNAs [certified nursing assistants] in the use of lifts and incorporating lift use in performance evaluations are other important factors.”

Also important are the preferences of the DON, including whether two caregivers may lift a resident manually and if the DON prefers the use of powered mechanical lifts when moving residents from bed to chair and vice versa.

Physical barriers also affect successful implementation of safe-lift programs. Providers should consider factors such as the difficulty of using powered mechanical lifts in the resident’s bathroom, whether residents are concerned about falling during a lift and maintenance issues. Finally, enforcement of the lift policy will determine successful implementation.


NCCI Research Brief

OSHA Guidelines for Resident Handling in Long-Term Care Facilities

Long-Term Living 2011 June;60(6):46

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