Safe lifting a healthcare triumph

CDC lauds progress in preventing injury

It's official: Safe patient handling is one of the U.S. public health achievements of the decade.

Alongside tobacco control, improved maternal and infant health, and reduction in motor vehicle deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited safe patient lifting and other occupational health advances as among the Ten Great Public Health Achievements for 2001 to 2010.

"In the late 1990s, an evaluation of a best practices patient-handling program that included the use of mechanical patient-lifting equipment demonstrated reductions of 66% in the rates of workers' compensation injury claims and lost workdays and documented that the investment in lifting equipment can be recovered in less than three years," the CDC said in its report. "Following widespread dissemination and adoption of these best practices by the nursing home industry, Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed a 35% decline in low back injuries in residential and nursing care employees between 2003 and 2009."

This citation refers to work by Jim Collins, PhD, MSME, associate director for science in NIOSH's Division of Safety Research in Morgantown, WV.

In a seminal study conducted with BJC Healthcare in St. Louis, Collins helped implement a "zero lift" program in long-term care facilities with one lift for every eight patient rooms. The program included intensive training of staff, safe-lifting "ergorangers" to help reinforce the training, and algorithms to assess patients' dependency and lift needs.

The payback of the safe lift program was swift. "The initial investment of $158,556 for lifting equipment and worker training was recovered in less than three years on the basis of post-intervention savings of $55,000 annually in workers' compensation costs," Collins told a U.S. Senate panel at a hearing in 2010. "This is significant given that cost is an often-cited barrier to purchasing lifting equipment and establishing safe patient lifting programs."

Interestingly, assaults on caregivers during resident transfers also declined with use of mechanical lifts, Collins says.