Use Training, Technology to Reduce Lifting Injuries Among Clinical Staff

Robotics is helping make nursing a safer practice

Injuries in nursing homes aren’t uncommon. But it’s not just residents you have to be concerned about — frontline care providers in long-term care settings also have a high risk of getting injured on the job.

According to an NPR report from 2015, “nursing employees suffer more debilitating back and other injuries than almost any other occupation — and they get those injuries mainly from doing the everyday tasks of lifting and moving patients.”

This means not only injured employees but pressure on your business to cover shifts of workers who can’t perform their duties. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that in 2017, nursing assistants had the second-highest number of cases of musculoskeletal disorders, a major source of injury to health care workers. “There were 18,090 days away from work cases, which equates to an incidence rate (IR) of 166.3 per 10,000 workers, more than five times the average for all industries. This compares to the all-worker days-away from work rate of 30.5 per 10,000 workers.”

Implementing a safe patient handling program to teach your employees safer techniques for completing their jobs might help. A 2017 study found, in the first year following implementation of a safe patient handling program in a multihospital health care system:

  • 82% reduction in Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recordable patient handling injuries
  • 94% decrease in days away from work
  • 85% reduction in restricted duty days
  • 82% reduction in workers’ compensation costs

What’s more, the report noted that the reductions were successfully sustained over an 8-year period following the program’s implementation in 2008.

Long-term care facilities can freely use OSHA resources to train and educate staff on best practices to avoid injury when working with patients. Some of the suggestions offered in these resources include:

  • Making sure that all relevant workers have been properly trained and oriented around using assistive technologies such as lifting equipment.
  • Providing frequent reminders to staff about safe patient handling protocols.
  • Creating a mentorship program to help newer staff members learn from longer-term employees.
  • Training caregivers to assess patient mobility frequently to help them better understand care needs.
  • Engaging patients and families to help them comply with protocols and regulations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers Safe Patient Handling Training for Schools of Nursing that you can adapt to help your workers learn how to keep themselves safe.

The Coming Tech Revolution

In addition to teaching improved lifting techniques and ergonomic best practices, mechanical devices may also help keep workers safer. In the past, ropes, harnesses, hooks and hoists have helped lighten the load, but more recently, high-tech firms are getting in on the action to help reduce injuries.

Though these devices are slowly being introduced in the United States, they have already caught on in Japan, where the aging population is creating stress on the senior care market.

In 2017, The Economist reported that “Japan leads the world in advanced robotics,” and that a small army of “carerobos” are helping look after seniors in long-term care facilities. These devices run the gamut from robots that interact with seniors to help entertain them to exo-skeleton-like suits that make lifting disabled adults out of bed much easier. The latter, made by a company called Cyberdyne, is a “lumbar-support suit that responds to bioelectric signals from the wearer’s body and helps care-home staff as they bend and lift.”

Another technology that could be coming soon to a care facility near you is a high-tech bed made by Panasonic that transforms into a wheelchair, eliminating the need to lift someone at all.

All of these technologies can lend a helping hand. While they’re still far from widespread here in the States, look for their adoption to expand in the coming years, particularly as demographic changes continue to put pressure on staff at long-term care facilities to remain properly staffed and running optimally.

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