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Posted: January 14th, 2024

Reducing Musculoskeletal Injuries from Patient Handling

Reducing Musculoskeletal Injuries from Patient Handling

Patient handling is one of the most common and demanding tasks in the healthcare sector. It involves lifting, transferring, repositioning, and mobilizing patients who have limited or no ability to move independently. Patient handling can pose significant risks for both patients and healthcare workers, especially for the musculoskeletal system. Musculoskeletal injuries are injuries that affect the muscles, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. They can cause pain, disability, reduced quality of life, and increased healthcare costs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, patient handling is the leading cause of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses among nursing assistants and registered nurses in the United States. In 2019, nursing assistants reported 35,050 cases of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that resulted in days away from work, while registered nurses reported 18,090 cases. These numbers represent an incidence rate of 184.9 and 52.4 per 10,000 full-time workers, respectively. These rates are much higher than the average rate for all occupations, which was 31.2 per 10,000 full-time workers in 2019.

The main risk factors for musculoskeletal injuries from patient handling include:

– The weight and size of the patient
– The frequency and duration of patient handling tasks
– The unpredictability and variability of patient movements
– The awkward postures and forces required to handle patients
– The lack of adequate equipment, space, and assistance
– The organizational and psychosocial factors, such as workload, time pressure, and staff shortages

To reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries from patient handling, several strategies can be implemented at different levels:

– At the policy level, regulations and standards can be established to mandate the use of safe patient handling practices and equipment in healthcare settings. For example, in 2005, California became the first state to enact a law that requires acute care hospitals to adopt a safe patient handling policy that includes the provision of appropriate equipment and training for staff.
– At the organizational level, a comprehensive safe patient handling program can be developed and implemented to address the specific needs and challenges of each healthcare facility. A safe patient handling program should include the following elements: a written policy statement; a multidisciplinary committee; a risk assessment; a plan for equipment selection, procurement, maintenance, and availability; a training program for staff and patients; an evaluation and feedback system; and a recognition and reward system.
– At the individual level, healthcare workers can adopt safe patient handling techniques and behaviors to protect themselves and their patients from injury. These include: using mechanical or assistive devices whenever possible; following ergonomic principles and guidelines; communicating effectively with patients and co-workers; seeking help when needed; reporting hazards and incidents; and participating in training and education activities.

Reducing musculoskeletal injuries from patient handling is not only beneficial for the health and safety of healthcare workers and patients, but also for the quality and efficiency of healthcare services. By implementing effective prevention strategies at different levels, healthcare organizations can reduce the costs associated with injury claims, absenteeism, turnover, litigation, and compensation. Moreover, they can improve the satisfaction, morale, productivity, and retention of their staff, as well as the outcomes and satisfaction of their patients.


– Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020) Nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work [Online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Jan 2024].
– Cal/OSHA (2005) Hospital Patient and Health Care Worker Injury Protection Act [Online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Jan 2024].
– Nelson A et al (2009) ‘Development and evaluation of a multifaceted ergonomics program to prevent injuries associated with patient handling tasks’ International Journal of Nursing Studies vol 46 no 8 pp 1097-1106.
– NIOSH (2016) Safe Patient Handling [Online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Jan 2024].
– Waters TR et al (2011) ‘Evidence-based practices for safe patient handling and movement’ Online Journal of Issues in Nursing vol 16 no 3.


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