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Busting the myths may eliminate MSDs in nurses

Considering the weights they have to lift, roll over and move, it is not surprising that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are par for the course for many nurses. Manually repositioning, lifting and transferring patients can cause overexertion to your body that often leads to MSDs. The fact that a large percentage of hospital patients are obese serves to exacerbate the threat of damage to your health and welfare.

In conversations about the effectiveness of safe patient handling equipment, there is never a shortage of excuses of why not to use it. In some cases, hospitals have purchased costly mechanical lifting equipment, but the failure to provide sufficient training in properly using it and neglecting to establish procedures and policies for it have resulted in the equipment turning into very expensive white elephants.

Myths and facts

Only when medical facilities establish cultures of safe patient handling -- involving nursing staff and management -- can a safety program begin to prevent MSDs. For this to happen, some common myths need busting, including the following:

Myth -- Using proper body mechanics are as effective as lifting equipment in avoiding back injuries and other MSDs.

Fact -- Research and experience spanning 30 years have shown that -- even with the best training in body mechanics -- manual lifting techniques are not enough to effectively reduce the number of MSDs within a nursing staff.

Myth -- Patients feel unsafe and uncomfortable during the process of mechanical lifting.

Fact -- When patients learn that the equipment is for both their and the caregiver's safety, they feel comfortable. With proper use, mechanical equipment can prevent falls, skin tears and bruises.

Myth -- Manual lifting is not as time consuming as mechanical lifting.

Fact -- Tests have shown that rounding up enough co-workers to lift a patient manually takes longer than finding a mechanical device and moving the patient.

Myth -- Lifting equipment is too expensive and not cost effective.

Fact -- Long-term benefits found at institutions with effective safe patient handling programs include fewer injuries, fewer workers' comp claims and lost time along with increased employee satisfaction, productivity and staff retention. This also led to improved patient care and patient satisfaction, with capital investment recovery in two to five years.

Myth -- The use of mechanical equipment will ensure safe patient handling.

Fact -- They key to the success of this equipment is proper training in the safe use of it. Regular maintenance and servicing are also necessary.

Myth -- It is a substantial investment for mechanical equipment that medical personnel will not use.

Fact -- A survey indicated that about a third of the nurses at facilities with readily available mechanical lifting devices used them regularly, while the rest said they use them occasionally.

With most myths busted, it only makes sense for hospitals to invest in safe patient handling equipment. However, successful integration will require commitment and involvement – by both employers and employees. Development of new policies, selection of equipment, identifying installation locations and education may ensure success and, ultimately, fewer musculoskeletal disorders.

Unfortunately, if you're a nurse, MSDs will most likely remain prevalent among you and your co-workers, and so will workers' compensation benefits claims. However, you may find that proving these injuries are work related can be quite a challenge. The skills of an experienced workers' comp attorney may be necessary to navigate your claim for benefits or to help you fight against any claims that were wrongfully denied.

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