Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are a significant cost to personal care facilities and hospitals in terms of both capital and personnel. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the year 2000, personal care facilities and hospitals had a total incident rate of 13.7 and 8.3 respectively. Compare those numbers with the incident rates for other industry sectors in the chart below.
Graph (available in full paper).
The majority of these incidents can be associated with tasks involving patient transfers. Owen and Garg (1990) identified 16 stressful patient handling tasks typically found in healthcare facilities in order of highest to lowest risk. They are as follows:
Transferring patient from toilet to chair
Transferring patient from chair to toilet
Transferring patient from chair to bed
Transferring patient from bed to chair
Transferring patient from bathtub to chair
Transferring patient from chairlift to chair
Weighing a patient
Lifting a patient up in bed
Repositioning a patient in bed side to side
Repositioning a patient in a chair
Changing an absorbent pad
Making a bed with a patient in it
Undressing a patient
Feeding a bed ridden patient
Making a bed while the patient is in it
Nelson (1996) lists several other high risk patient handling task; bathing patient in bed, dressing a patient in bed, transferring a patient from bed to stretcher, and transferring patient from bed to wheelchair.
The greatest impact on the high incident rates is the number of back injuries. For all private industry occupations, back injuries account for 26% of total lost workday (LWD) cases. Among nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants, back injuries account for 46% of total LWD cases. Claims involving back sprains can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $85,000 with the average case costing around $25,000. Based on that average cost, the approximately 67,000 back injuries for health care workers could total 1.7 billion in workers compensation.
Back Injuries - As a Percent of Total Lost Workday Cases (available in full paper).
Although the healthcare sector in general has shown modest improvement in the past six years,27% and 18% reductions in total incident rates for hospitals and personal care facilities respectively, most companies still struggle to develop an effective and sustainable approach to address WMSDs.
Traditionally, ergonomic initiatives in the healthcare sector have centered around three approaches to reducing ergonomic injuries:
Training in lifting biomechanics,
Use of lifting teams
Implementation of a no-lift policy.