NEW YORK NURSE: April 2009
by Nancy Webber
At NYSNA’s urging, a bill has been introduced in the State Legislature that would require healthcare facilities to develop safe patient handling programs.
Manual lifting and moving of patients has been identified as a major factor in the high rate of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among nurses. In 2006, registered nurses were ranked fifth among workers who had to take time off of work due to MSDs, higher than construction workers.
It is estimated that each year 12% of nurses leave the profession due to back injuries. More than 50% complain of chronic back pain.
“These injuries are debilitating,” said Thomas Lowe, Occupational Safety & Health Representative for the NYSNA Economic & General Welfare Program. “This is especially frustrating when there is technology available that would prevent MSDs and keep nurses in the workforce.”
The use of mechanical lifting devices, combined with appropriate education of staff, can significantly reduce injuries to nurses and other staff. For example, the state Veteran’s Home in Batavia has experienced a 93% reduction in lost workdays since implementing a safe handling program. Glens Falls Hospital has seen a 25% decrease in workers’ compensation costs.
The new legislation would establish an 11-member task force within the state Department of Health. The task force would be charged with submitting recommendations for safe patient handling to the state Health Commissioner by July 2010. The commissioner would develop regulations for a statewide safe patient handling policy that would be made available to healthcare facilities by Jan. 1, 2011. All facilities covered by the law will be required to file a plan for compliance with the state policy by July 1, 2011.
The state policy must include standards for equipment or technology used in patient handling, the number of handling devices that must be available to nursing and other direct-care staff, procedures for reporting compliance with the plan, and procedures for reviewing complaints about facilities that fail to comply.
Each facility’s safe patient handling program must include a written policy statement, management commitment and employee involvement, risks assessments, incident investigation, procurement of engineering controls, lifting and transfer aids or assistive devices, employee training and education on safe patient handling, and program evaluation and modification. Each facility will also establish a committee to assist with implementation and oversight of the program.
“There is growing awareness of this issue across the country,” Lowe said. “Seven states have enacted similar legislation and ten more states have bills pending in their legislatures.” The bill will be one of the top priorities at NYSNA Lobby Day on April 21.