Avoiding back injuries
As health care workers, it’s your duty to care for the well-being of others. That doesn’t mean though you should overlook your own health or well-being. Strained backs, sore necks, aching knees are all common hazards of the job that can impede your ability to be efficient in your care for others, your colleagues and yourself.According to the Canadian Labour Force Survey, nurses lose more work hours due to illness and injury than any other major occupational group in Canada. Additionally, the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers reports that a Canadian study monitoring the health of nurses found that 90% of the participants named musculoskeletal disorders (or MSDs) as a major health concern for nurses. This condition is often the result of lifting, transferring and repositioning of patients, and the use of awkward postures.

In another study, almost 25% of nurses reported that pain had impacted their ability to carry out their nursing duties. It’s clear that preventing injuries and preserving the health of our clinicians, as well as other important positions in health care, must be a priority.

Moving patients and the physical work is all part of the job, but there are steps that can and should be taken to prevent injury. Consider these tips:

  • Know your health care organization’s back injury guidelines
    Many hospitals and clinics have guidelines in place that advise employees on how to prevent back injury. Some even provide seminars and workshops that aim to promote back care among employees. Find out what your facility has to offer and take advantage of these opportunities—your back will thank you. If programs like these do not yet exist within your organization, rally support to offer them. Build awareness with other staff members by distributing e-mails, flyers or memos and offer a tangible takeaway, like an ergonomic pen or back massager.
  • Create lift teams
    Work as a team to accomplish more, safely. Research has found that having more than one nurse lift, shift and/or transfer a patient can reduce injury.
  • Avoid repetitive or prolonged movements and rest often
    A leading cause of MSDs, repetitive movements should be avoided. While it’s true that moving patients laterally and turning patients every day is repetitive and unavoidable, it is important for nursing staff to somehow be able to take rest periods after doing these repetitive motions within a short period of time. Similarly, avoid holding equipment or positions for long periods of time without rest.
  • Remember to bend at the knees
    Bending to wash patients, pick up equipment, adjust beds and tray tables and so on is part of every day life in the health care world. When possible, squat down, keeping the back straight, and lift up using the legs; this will help prevent strain on the lower back. OSHA offers great posters to display in employee work areas that illustrate the safest ways to lift boxes and heavy equipment—consider requesting one today.
  • Never underestimate a pair of good shoes
    Good shoes with good support and soft soles will help ease back pain, leg pain and foot pain. Many are nonslip, too, which can prevent falls that lead to serious injury, too. Remind staff of the importance of foot care in preventing back injuries by offering gel shoe inserts or fun running shoe key tags.
  • Encourage mindful behaviour
    Reward fellow teammates for practicing safe lifting, reviewing back injury guidelines and demonstrating leadership in forming lift teams. Offer them recognition in printed newsletters along with a token of appreciation, like a personalized ceramic mug or zippered tote.

Protecting yourself and your staff from back injuries is sure to minimize incidents while ensuring the utmost of care for patients. Take a few moments to review and communicate your back injury guidelines and safety tips today.

Healthcare Workers Patient Handling.Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. Web. 07 April 2011.

Dr Linda O’Brien-Pallas. “Health Human Resources in Nursing: The Research and the Reality.CHSRF/ CIHR National Chair in Nursing/ Health Human Resources Research Symposium. Web. 07 April 2011.

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