Ergonomics is especially important in the caregiving setting, where many patients rely on staff members for mobility. Medical professionals suffer the highest work-related injury rates of all employees. To reduce injuries, caregiving institutions provide special equipment to assist employees with patient care. While these tools help, employees ultimately create a safe work environment.
Ergonomics and Related Risks
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical personnel suffer the most injuries among all US workers – with every 68 hospital workers, 107 nurses and 174 EMTs per 100,000 fulltime employees injuring themselves on the job, primarily while maneuvering patients.  Healthcare institutions estimate $20 billion in losses due to employee back injuries alone. As a result, the healthcare industry recognizes manual maneuvering as a risk for employees and patients.
Ergonomics helps reduce workplace injuries due to physical activity. When an employee’s workload is too demanding, this risk increases. Ergonomic practices and equipment decrease the impact work places on the body, preventing injuries before they occur.
Unknown physical stressors create workplace hazards. Many patients rely on healthcare workers for physically demanding mobility services. Each service a medical professional performs can potentially result in harm to the worker and patient, which increase healthcare costs due to worker absences, turnover and shortages.
Tools and Practices for Workplace Safety
Caregiving facilities that implement ergonomic practices experience fewer employee injuries. Depending on the setting, caregiving facilities may provide ergonomic equipment to assist employees such as:
• Sliding boards
• Lateral transfer aids
• Transfer chairs
• Gait belts
• Full body lifts
• Standing and repositioning lifts
• Bedding modifications
• Geriatric chairs
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to maintain work environments that are safe for employees and patrons.  In caregiving settings, this includes providing equipment to minimize or eliminate manual patient lifting.
OSHA regulations require employers to document policies that can prevent work-related injuries. Healthcare administrators must then continually educate and monitor medical personnel regarding policies such as proper patient lifting and transfer methods. OSHA also requires caregiving facilities to implement procedures to report the first signs of work-related physical duress.
Ergonomic Analysis and Training
Workplace analysis is a tool that healthcare administrators use to identify and prevent current and future safety hazards by evaluating task duration, repetition, environment and other factors to determine if work responsibilities present injury risks to employees. To accomplish this, healthcare administrators observe, communicate with and poll current staff members. Administrators also review past injuries and worker compensation reports to identify chronic safety hazards.
Healthcare administrators update and teach safety procedures regularly based on their ongoing evaluations. Administrators make sure that employees receive and understand updates expeditiously and encourage feedback from staff members concerning safety issues.
Basic safety policies outline leading back injury causes, risks and symptoms as well as other work-related injury hazards. Administrators teach medical personnel how to recognize and report injuries, and as a preventative measure, encourage employees to maintain physical fitness.
Ergonomic training typically includes lifting education. Administrators remind nurses not to lift patients unless they have firm footing and to keep patients close to ease lifting. Additionally, nurses should never lift patients alone, especially if a patient has fallen. Nurses should ask peers to help lift patients or use mechanical assistance and limit how many times per day they complete the task.
Ongoing Evaluation and Reporting Procedures
Evaluation and procedures do not make a workplace safe; it is the inclination of workers to follow safety guidelines.  Therefore, it is important that administrators carefully plan how train employees, especially if it is a new concept. New initiatives must begin with open support from top management. Before institutions install new equipment in the workplace, healthcare administrators must educate stakeholders on what purpose the device serves and how to use it, because employees that participate in the change process beforehand are more likely to support the agenda. Once the new equipment is in place, administrators should measure safety improvements and reward employees for adopting the new technology. Administrators must also determine how to gather measurable safety data from the new devices.
Healthcare administrators make sure that their organizations comply with OSHA standards. These regulations, based on ergonomic principles, greatly reduce employee injuries. In the caregiving field, mechanical assistance is a key component of these principles, which also serve to increase patient safety and comfort. When accidents do occur, administrators are responsible for accurately identifying and managing injured staff members.
For nursing professionals, ergonomics is important for workplace safety. Among all United States workers, caregivers suffer the most work-related injuries. To reduce these injuries, medical facilities institute policies and provide equipment to assist with patient mobility. Healthcare administrators educate about, and monitor, employee safety to mitigate or eliminate workplace hazards. Of all these precautions, safety conscious employees are the most powerful workplace safety tool.
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1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Safe Patient Handling and Movement (SPHM). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Web Page]. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/safepatient/. Accessed September 10, 2016.
2. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Hospital eTool: Healthcare Wide Hazards – Ergonomics. Occupational Safety and Health Administration [Web Page]. Available at: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/hospital/hazards/ergo/ergo.html. Accessed September 10, 2016.
3. Fragala G, et. al. Patient Care Ergonimcs Resource Guide. NursingWorld.org. November 2003. http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/WorkplaceSafety/Healthy-Work-Environment/SafePatient/Resources/ergonomics1.pdf. Accessed September 10, 2016.