On January 15, 2014, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) launched an online resource tool to help hospitals assess workplace safety needs, implement safety and health management systems, and enhance their safe patient handling programs.  The online resource tool was created in an effort to assist hospitals in combating their high workplace injury and illness rates –  approximately 253,700 work-related injuries and illnesses were recorded in 2012. 

OSHA has identified a hospital as the most hazardous place to work in the United States, noting that the likelihood of an injury or illness resulting in days away from work is higher in a hospital than in the construction and manufacturing industries.  Data collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that nearly half (48 percent) of injuries resulting in days away from work in hospitals are caused by overexertion or bodily motions, such as lifting, bending, or reaching.  These motions often relate to patient handling.  OSHA notes that high injury rates increase a hospital’s overall costs, much in the form of workers’ compensation payouts and loss productivity. 

OSHA believes that a hospital can combat these high injury and illness rates and reduce hazards in the workplace by creating and enforcing both a safety and health management system (also known as an injury and illness prevention program) and a safe patient handling program.  OSHA provides two separate Self-Assessment Worksheets that can be used to evaluate how safe and effective a hospital’s programs are. 

In “Safety and Health Management Systems:  A Road Map for Hospitals”, OSHA identifies and discusses in detail the six core elements of a successful injury and illness prevention program along with best practices and examples of each: 

  • Management leadership:  Managers demonstrate their commitment to improved safety and health, communicate this commitment, and document safety and health performance.  
  • Employee participation:  Employees are involved in all aspects of the program and they are encouraged to communicate openly with management and report safety and health concerns. 
  • Hazard identification and assessment:  Processes and procedures are put in place to continually identify workplace hazards and evaluate risks through initial assessments and periodic reassessments. 
  • Hazard prevention and control:  Processes, procedures, and programs are implemented and tracked to eliminate or control workplace hazards and achieve safety and health goals and objectives.  
  • Education and training:  All employees have education or training on hazard recognition and control and their responsibilities under the program. 
  • System evaluation and improvement:  Processes are established to monitor the system’s performance, verify its implementation, identify deficiencies and opportunities for improvement, and take actions needed to improve the system and overall safety and health performance.

Because patient handling accounts for most of the recorded injuries in hospitals, OSHA believes that creating a safe patient handling program is critical to successfully addressing this problem and can materially reduce injuries such as musculoskeletal disorders.  OSHA provides detailed information on creating and enforcing a successful safe patient handling program.   The online resource features tools and guidance on the key components of such a program: 

  • MSD Assessment:  Understand the scale and nature of the hospital’s musculoskeletal injuries and the hazards in the workplace by reviewing injury data, examining the injury rates and comparing it to others, and identifying areas of concern.  
  • Management support:  Support and promote a culture of safety, develop a business plan for investing in equipment and training, and collaborate with employees and union officials to develop an effective program. 
  • Develop and Implement a Written Program:  Establish expectations that staff will use the safest techniques to accomplish patient handling tasks, and that administrators will provide equipment and resources to support staff efforts.  Train employees on the written program.  
  • Conduct Patient Assessments:  Establish a systematic patient assessment that is focused on the patient’s mobility and the safety means for an employee to lift, transfer, or reposition a patient.  
  • Safe Patient Handling Equipment:  Choose equipment based on the specific lifting, transfer, and movement needs of each patient population, ensure that equipment is conveniently located, readily available, and accessible so that staff can use it without keeping patients waiting or delaying other tasks, and put systems in place to ensure that mechanical equipment is maintained and kept clean. 
  • Educate and Training Workers:  Ensure that all relevant workers are trained on using the mechanical lifts and other safe patient handling equipment and periodically retrain on the safe use of said equipment. 
  • Program Evaluation:  Periodically assess the effectiveness of the hospital’s efforts by setting goals on worker safety, tracking the success of the program, and gathering feedback from staff who handle patients.