Current Problem Statement

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

  • Tying supports

  • 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).

Status of Ergonomics in the Healthcare Sector

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.

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