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Nurses risk workplace injuries when helping overweight patients

A little discussed casualty in the nation’s struggle with obesity is the health of the nurses and technicians that care for overweight patients. During a single shift, nurses are now frequently lifting a total of 1.8 tons, mostly as they assist patients.

That amount of weight would take a toll on even the strongest healthcare providers, and in fact nurses who frequently treat severely obese patients do experience a high rate of workplace injuries as a result of that lifting. A survey conducted last year by the American Nurses Association showed that 62 percent of nurses rank disabling injuries from lifting as their top safety concern on the job. Eighty percent of nurses reported frequent muscle and joint pain.

Injuries from lifting heavy patients often involve back injuries, which are costly to treat and are one of the primary reasons that nurses leave their profession.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has been working with hospitals to improve safety for nurses. New Jersey is one of only 10 states that require health care institutions to establish patient-handling requirements aimed at protecting nurses on the job.

The best solution to this problem has been portable lift devices and better training for nurses on how to use the lifts and avoid injuries.

“Manual patient handling is unsafe and directly responsible for musculoskeletal disorders suffered by nurses,” said a spokesman for the national organization. “Patient handling can be performed safely with the use of assistive equipment.”

Devices also help to lessen the chances of injuries to patients and help caregivers move patients more often to prevent bedsores.

Source: USA Today, “Hospital’s heavy lifting lightens loan on nurses,” Tom Wilemon, July 19, 2012.

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