Investing in Prevention

By Guy Fragala Ph.D., PE, CSP, CSPHP

February 5, 2019

Note: Content similar to this blog post originally appeared in the International Archives of Nursing and Healthcare, Citation: Fragala G (2016) The Need for Safe Patient Handling Programs. Int Arch Nurs Health Care 2:043, as well as in the Learning Center of the Association on Safe Patient Handling Professionals.

Nurses, doctors and medical teams dedicate their professional lives to caring for others, and these passionate individuals are a precious resource within the healthcare industry. But for individuals who enter the field ready to make a difference, the front lines of healthcare can be a trying place. A study from the American Journal of Medicine stated that, “Physician burnout [has] increased significantly, from 45.5% to 54.4%. Parallel studies of all U.S. workers during the same period showed no changes.”

It isn’t just burnout that’s an issue. Caregivers working in healthcare facilities continue to be one of the most at-risk professions for experiencing musculoskeletal disorders, which include back injuries and other strains and sprains. Reviewing current data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of nonfatal occupational injury and illness cases for all occupations requiring days away from work to recuperate was 118 cases per 10,000 full-time workers in 2010, statistically unchanged from 2009. However, the musculoskeletal disorders incidence rate for nursing aides, orderlies and attendants increased 10% to 249 days-away-from-work per 10,000 full-time workers.

It is not acceptable that caregiver injury rates continue to increase when there are solutions available to reduce exposure to injury and improve quality of work for caregivers. Published research demonstrates that the forces generated on the musculoskeletal structure by manual patient lifting and repositioning tasks are greater than the body can typically tolerate. No matter how biomechanically correct a caregiver performs a manual lift or movement of a patient, in most instances, it is scientifically unsafe.

There is a clear need to invest in technology for injury prevention. The OSHA Education Center cites a 2005 Liberty Mutual Insurance Company survey in which more than 60 percent of chief financial officers reported that each $1 invested in injury prevention returns $2 or more. That ROI alone – in addition to helping preserve the enjoyment-of-work and passion of professionals who are dedicated to caring for others – is worth the investment.

Having spent most of my professional career in the healthcare industry I know each year there are large capital equipment budgets available, but there is strong competition for those dollars. Often times millions of dollars are spent to update a current single piece of equipment that is still adequately providing service or money might be spent for technologies that are not evidence based. It is time that some of these capital equipment dollars be invested in prevention to protect caregivers and reduce the risk of occupational injuries.

Caregivers need to have a voice on capital equipment committees and the ability to obtain the right type of safe patient handling equipment to reduce risk of injury. The outcome from obtaining this equipment will be a wise investment resulting in reduced occupational injuries, improving the quality of work life for caregivers while contributing to quality of care of patients.