Obese Patients Present On-the-Job Safety Hazard for Healthcare Workers

According to standards established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, nurses and other health care providers should never be asked to lift more than 35 pounds at a given time. Unfortunately, given the meteoric rise in average patient weights, many nurses have been asked to lift far heavier amounts than that while helping people in and out of bed, turning them to prevent bed sores and assisting them in moving to and from the restroom. The result has been an increase in musculoskeletal injuries to these health care providers.

According to a 2011 health and safety survey conducted by the American Nurses Association, 62 % of nurses cited the fear of sustaining a disabling injury from heavy lifting as a top concern. And when listing job-related ailments, 80% of the nurses surveyed said they frequently suffered from muscle and joint pain, side effects that can be directly linked to repeated, heavy lifting.

In response to the growing problem of injuries related to obese patients, some hospitals have decided to tackle the problem with technology. At Baptist Hospital in Nashville, TN, the management decided to invest in mechanical patient lifters after a nurse at the facility had to undergo three surgeries for a neck injury, torn rotator cuff and carpal tunnel syndrome she sustained after lifting obese patients.

Amy Williamson, a workplace safety coordinator at the hospital, said, "In the course of an eight hour day, a nurse will typically lift 1.8 tons, which is pretty astronomical." To help lighten that load, the hospital invested in portable lift devices that can move patients weighing up to 600 pounds. Since purchasing these lifts, the hospital has not had any reports of nursing staff injuries related to heavy lifting.

In addition to reducing injuries to health care providers, lifts decrease the risk of patient injuries and help improve their mobility to prevent bed sores. In spite of this fact, just 10 states—California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington—have instituted laws that require health care providing facilities to protect their employees with patient-handling requirements.

This puts employees in unregulated states at great risk of injury; according to Jemarion Jones, a spokesperson for the American Nurses Association, "Manual patient handling is unsafe…patient handling can be performed safely with the use of assistive equipment."

Regardless of whether state regulations require them, the personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Itkin believe that all health care facilities should implement the use of patient lifts to protect their staff from lifting related injuries. Musculoskeletal injuries sustained from heavy lifting can cause crippling pain and even end a health care provider's career if the damage proves to be long term or irreversible. If you sustained an injury due to heavy, on-the-job lifting, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact our office today for a free and confidential consultation.

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