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Unsafe at any weight

There is a weighty issue causing concern in the medical community. It threatens to deplete the ranks of qualified and skilled medical personnel. Every day nurses, nursing assistants and orderlies go to work, not knowing if they will come home injury-free.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical personnel rank among the highest of all occupations for sustaining musculoskeletal injuries that result in lost workdays. When comparing an orderly or nursing assistant with firefighters, law enforcement or construction workers, one would think the “more dangerous” occupations present a greater injury risk. Sadly, this is not true.

In fact, two of the top three occupations most affected by musculoskeletal injuries are hospital orderlies and nursing assistants. Firefighters rank between these two medical occupations. Furthermore, four of the top eight professions susceptible to this type of injury are in the health care industry.

The causes behind this problem? Many factors contribute to a growing number of severe injuries among heath care workers. The greatest factor however, is the lifting and moving of patients. Most patients are unable to move themselves, let alone assist health care workers. As a result, the health care worker must perform movements for the patient. This often requires contorting in awkward positions leaving the health care worker vulnerable to injury.

Weight a factor in healthcare injuries

A major factor contributing to a rise in musculoskeletal injuries among health care workers is the growing number of obese patients. In a recent report on National Public Radio (NPR), Daniel Zwerdling reported on the plight of several nurses injured while attempting to help overweight patients. Zwerdling documents how nurses, including Tove Schuster, were seriously injured while helping a large patient.

In Schuster’s case, the patient—a woman weighing in excess of 300 pounds—had fallen on the floor. Schuster and others responded to help using accepted lifting techniques. As she grabbed hold of the patient’s leg, Schuster felt something pop, causing her to cry out in pain. The injury required extensive surgery to her neck causing her to miss work and ultimately, end her career as a floor nurse.

As the number of obese people continues to grow, situations like that of Schuster become more frequent. A report by health care services company, Novation, indicates hospitals are spending more to accommodate the heavier patient including patient lift devices. Unfortunately, the commitment to patient and health care worker safety is at best uneven throughout the industry.

Hospitals promote proper manual lifting techniques for staff. However, critics such as Ohio State University Spine Research Institute Director, William Marras, believe there is no safe way to lift a patient without some mechanical assistance. Marras stated, “The best body mechanics in the world are not going to keep you from getting a back problem.”

Injuries among medical personnel are not limited to lifting patients. The other major cause of musculoskeletal injuries is creating by excessive push/pull forces caused by transporting patients (particularly the obese) in non-motorized chairs. Attempting to move a 300-plus pound patient in a traditional wheelchair requires much more effort than 35 pounds of force—the maximum amount of force allowed without causing injury.

While medical facilities have invested in ergonomic equipment, too often the equipment was unavailable when needed. Reports tell a story of this safety equipment being inaccessible, lacking the proper charge or having multiple needs simultaneously when only one device was available. Proper training in the use of motorized ergonomic equipment is also an issue.

Healthcare industry must step up to protect its workers

The medical industry must do more to protect its personnel from injury. Other industries, such as manufacturing have taken steps to prevent injuries related to lifting and excessive push/pull forces. Without such a commitment, hospitals and other medical facilities will compound the already growing shortage of qualified health care workers.

Injury cause by lifting or moving heavy objects/ people are preventable. You can learn more about injuries caused by excessive push/pull forces by requesting this special report the impact push/pull forces have on the body. Electro-Kinetic Technologies offers a wide range of standard and custom motorized ergonomic solutions for the healthcare industry.

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