'Body mechanics' can't save nurses from back injuries

In addition to the prevalent workplace violence they face, nurses also frequently suffer musculoskeletal injuries on the job. The reason for the latter workplace danger is simple, according to an NPR report--even the "proper" method taught to many clinicians for how to lift patients can't protect them from serious back problems.

Clinical staffers often receive instruction to lift patients by using "body mechanics," which calls for clinicians to keep their backs straight and bend at the knees and hips when lifting heavy loads to avoid injury. But using this method doesn't adequately protect clinical staff, William Marras, director of the Spine Research Institute at Ohio State University, told NPR. "This is why nursing staffs are getting hurt lifting patients," he said.

Marras' landmark 1999 study indicated that the only way to mitigate the risks associated with clinical workers lifting patients is to stop doing it manually and start using equipment like a ceiling hoist to do the job. Federal government researchers have since done their own studies and reached similar conclusions, NPR reports, and both the National Nurses United union and American Nurses Association support the findings that staff should not lift patients manually.

While providers such as Florida's Baptist Health System and some Department of Veterans Affairs facilities have implemented programs that use special machines to lift patients--reducing lifting injuries by as much as 80 percent by some accounts--not nearly enough organizations have such programs, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Indeed, Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire has some rooms with motorized lifts mounted on the ceiling, but "money and space constraints" prevent most rooms from containing the equipment, a hospital official told NPR.

Installing such specialized equipment is costly, but perhaps not as much as the billions of dollars and millions of lost workdays that the American Society of Safety Engineers said healthcare worker injuries can cost the industry. And another report found that when healthcare staffers face workplace safety hazards, patient safety and care quality can suffer as well.

There's also no substitute for patient-lifting equipment and machines, Marras told NPR, as some healthcare workers' attempt to mitigate risk by lifting patients in teams can actually put staffers in more danger.

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