Woman helping man out of wheelchair.

Injury Prevention in the Health Care Industry

By Ryan McDonald, LOTR

Health Care workers are at constant risk for injuries from work-related incidents. Nursing Home employees are almost 2.5 times more likely to be injured on the job compared to all other industries. Back injuries make up 46% of all injuries in the Health Care industry. The numbers may be even higher due to an estimated 1/3 of injuries that go unreported. Health care workers are hurting their backs while lifting, transferring and otherwise moving patients or residents.

Caring for people often necessitates lifting or helping them move. Since these work tasks involve sick or fragile human beings, they are more complicated and risky than handling materials in industrial settings. Compared to objects manually lifted or moved in industrial settings, the body is heavier, more delicate and awkward to handle. Also, the center of gravity and the distance to the patient or resident can change during the handling activity. This can suddenly put the provider in an awkward posture or position and require them to make more forceful exertions (e.g., when stopping a fall).

The physical demands of work generally include forceful exertions, awkward position or postures, and repetition.

  • Forceful Exertions

Force is the amount of physical exertion or muscular effort expended. How much force is used and how long it is sustained are important factors contributing to injuries. These are influenced by the weight and condition of patients, residents or equipment. The type of grips, body posture, and number of repetitions can also affect the amount of force required. Examples of excessive force include: Lifting or transferring heavy patients, unexpected or abrupt forceful motions, stopping patient or resident falls, and lifting patients off the floor after a fall.

  • Awkward Position or Posture

Repeated bending, twisting, reaching or holding prolonged fixed positions can contribute to injuries of the neck, shoulder and back. Bending the back forward when lifting places great loads on the muscles, discs and ligaments of the lower back. One of the most damaging activities is to bend, reach out and lift, and then twist while raising the trunk.

  • Repetition

Repetition means performing the same motion over and over again. If repetitive motions are frequent or sustained, they can contribute to fatigue and injuries. The number and length of rest periods, the associated force, and unfamiliar work activities can all affect the impact of repetition on the body.

It is imperative that we, as health care workers, do all we can to avoid injuries.  We must evaluate every situation before acting. Not only will you protect yourself, but also the patient.