According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), sprains and strains, including to the back, neck, and shoulders, are among the most common lost-work-time injuries to home healthcare workers. The proliferation of these types of injury is underscored in a recent study by a national insurer that found that overexertion (as a result of injuries involving lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying) topped the list among all types of businesses in direct Workers’ Comp spend for 2013 at $15.08 billion.
Sprains and strains, particularly in home healthcare, occur as a result of common work activities performed by caregivers, such as lifting and moving patients (known as “patient transfers”), bathing and feeding patients. It is estimated that musculoskeletal injuries that occur as a result of lifting or moving patients affects nearly 52% of caregivers. In addition, caregivers are often trying to manage awkward situations in a home environment where patients may be uncooperative, overweight, fearful, and even wet from bathing – all of which increase the risk of injury. Physical therapists/ occupational therapists as well as Registered Nurses (RNs), home health aides and others who serve the home healthcare sector are also at risk of injuries related to lifting. BLS data shows nursing assistants and RNs ranked among the highest occupations incurring lost workdays due to musculoskeletal injuries.
How to Prevent, Minimize Injuries
To reduce the potential for injury, caregivers should be trained on proper lifting techniques. Here are several recommendations to follow:
• Ensure feet are stable and as close as possible to the person being lifted.
• Face the person to be lifted, slightly bend the knees and squat in preparation to lift. Hold in the abdominals and keep the back straight. This will add lifting strength and recruit additional power from the legs and arms.
• Maintain a position as close to the person as possible so that excess strain is not placed on the back by leaning over.
• When turning over a patient from back to side, distribute weight equally between feet and try to avoid extended forward-bending movements as much as possible.
• Point feet toward the person being lifted. If possible, place one foot in between the person’s feet and one foot to the outside for optimal stability.
• Use gentle rocking motions to move a patient.
• When pulling a patient up from an adjustable bed, lower the head of the bed until it is flat or down. Raise the patient’s knees and encourage the patient to push up from the bed.
• Don’t stand in one place. Move around the patient’s bed so you can position yourself in a safe posture rather than stretching, bending, and reaching.
Additionally, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that ergonomic assistive devices be used to improve safety for both workers and patients:
• A hoist should be used for lifting patients who don’t have enough strength to stand and walk on their own.
• A rolling toileting and showering chair can reduce six transfers (from bed to wheelchair to toilet to wheelchair to bathtub to wheelchair to bed) to two (from bed to chair and back to bed).
• Grab bars, adjustable beds, and raised toilet seats can improve leverage and prevent the need for awkward and unsafe postures.
• Slip sheets and other friction-reducing devices cut back on the effort needed to move a patient.
In educating caregivers in injury prevention and ergonomics training, home healthcare agencies are taking proactive steps to minimize potential injuries to patients and their staff, and providing a safe and secure environment. In addition, every home care firm should have procedures in place as to when it is appropriate for an employee to assist a patient/client, based on their job descriptions and duties (i.e. registered nurse care, home health aides, etc.) and the level of training they have received.
Additionally, implementing strong safety and loss control measures helps to stem Workers’ Compensation claims, which drive up operational costs for the home healthcare industry. Manchester Specialty Programs provides comprehensive insurance solutions for the home healthcare sector, including Workers’ Compensation coverage supported by tools and strategies through our insurers to help prevent injuries, manage costs and rising premiums, assist employees in returning to work and other risk management measures. For more information about our insurance solutions, you or your local agent/broker can contact us at 855.972.9399.