Establishing a Patient/Resident Handling and Movement Program

When providing care at your healthcare facility, your staff may transport patients or residents to appointments, dining facilities, and even to and from bed. Establishing a patient handling and movement program can help reduce the risk of injury to employees as well as patients and residents. 

Completing the following actions can help you develop a successful program: 

Form a Patient Handling Task Force 

Include representation from all departments that may contribute to or be affected by the implementation of a safe patient handling program. This includes direct caregivers, nurse managers, and physical/occupational therapists, as well as members of the maintenance, human resources, and operations departments.

Understand Patient Handling Exposures 

As research continues to better define patient handling exposures, it’s important to be aware of current guidelines. For example, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health researchers established a 35-pound weight limit for patient handling tasks with an average-sized, cooperative patient. When conditions change (e.g., increased reaching, bending, or twisting) or the weight to be lifted is more than 35 pounds, caregivers should use patient handling lifting and transfer devices. A very limited number of lifts and transfers can be done safely without assistive devices. 

Analyze Losses 

Review past workers compensation and OSHA recordable losses related to moving and transporting patients. To get a better idea of where priority exposures exist, evaluate near misses or employee complaints related to difficult patient movement tasks.

Survey Employees

Go directly to your caregivers to find out the following:

  • What types of patient movement and transfer tasks do they do most often?
  • Which are the most difficult?
  • What methods and equipment are available to assist with these tasks?
  • What pain, discomfort, or injuries have they experienced when completing transfers, and what changes would make the job safer?

Inventory Existing Equipment

Conduct a facility audit to determine what patient movement, transfer, and ambulation equipment is already on hand. Determine which equipment is used most often and by whom, and what equipment is obsolete and should be discarded.

Complete an Equipment Needs Assessment

As mobility can differ, understanding a patient’s needs prior to movement is important. Determine if assistive equipment is needed and, if so, how you will store and maintain that equipment when not in use. 

Develop Lifting Protocols

Develop and document specific protocols for each type of lift and transfer, including the equipment to be used and the steps to follow for each task. Many organizations also develop visual cues, such as signs on the door, bed, or room closet, to communicate lifting requirements and mobility status of the patient. This allows everyone to quickly see the correct protocol.

Incorporate Skill Development Programs 

Provide specific, hands-on training on the use of patient handling equipment, movement, and transfer protocols and how to manage unusual situations. Include all employees who are required to lift, transfer, or move patients. 

Establish Program Leaders 

Select employees in different areas of the organization to act as peer leaders to help and encourage other employees with their knowledge and expertise.

Monitor Performance

Establish metrics to monitor the progress of the patient handling program over time. Metrics such as injury statistics, equipment usage rates, employee turnover rates, and employee survey results are some metrics you can use to measure program performance. Communicate these results to management.

Many states recognize the importance of handling and movement programs and have enacted laws focused on the safety of employees, patients, and residents. By implementing appropriate programs, you can help protect your employees, patients, and residents from injury so you can keep your focus on providing care and treatment.

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The illustrations, instructions, and principles in this material are general in scope and, to the best of our knowledge, current at the time of publication. No attempt has been made to interpret any referenced codes, standards, or regulations nor to identify all potential risks or requirements.