Ergonomics: Introduction to Guidelines for Nursing Homes

Section I. Introduction

caregivers assisting senior patient in wheelchair outdoorNursing homes that have implemented injury prevention efforts focusing on resident lifting and repositioning methods have achieved considerable success in reducing work-related injuries and associated workers' compensation costs. Providing a safer and more comfortable work environment has also resulted in additional benefits for some facilities, including reduced staff turnover and associated training and administrative costs, reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, improved employee morale, and increased resident comfort. These guidelines provide recommendations for employers to help them reduce the number and severity of work-related musculoskeletal disorders in their facilities using methods that have been found to be successful in the nursing home environment.

Wyandot County Nursing Home in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, has implemented a policy of performing all assisted resident transfers with mechanical lifts, and has purchased electrically adjustable beds. According to Wyandot no back injuries from resident lifting have occurred in over five years. The nursing home also reported that workers' compensation costs have declined from an average of almost $140,000 per year to less than $4,000 per year, reduced absenteeism and overtime have resulted in annual savings of approximately $55,000, and a reduction in costs associated with staff turnover has saved an additional $125,000 (1). (see Reference List)

Providing care to nursing home residents is physically demanding work. Nursing home residents often require assistance to walk, bathe, or perform other normal daily activities. In some cases residents are totally dependent upon caregivers for mobility. Manual lifting and other tasks involving the repositioning of residents are associated with an increased risk of pain and injury to caregivers, particularly to the back (2, 3). These tasks can entail high physical demands due to the large amount of weight involved, awkward postures that may result from leaning over a bed or working in a confined area, shifting of weight that may occur if a resident loses balance or strength while moving, and many other factors. The risk factors that workers in nursing homes face include:

Force - the amount of physical effort required to perform a task (such as heavy lifting) or to maintain control of equipment or tools;

Repetition - performing the same motion or series of motions continually or frequently; and

Awkward postures - assuming positions that place stress on the body, such as reaching above shoulder height, kneeling, squatting, leaning over a bed, or twisting the torso while lifting (3).

Excessive exposure to these risk factors can result in a variety of disorders in affected workers (3, 5). These conditions are collectively referred to as musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs. MSDs include conditions such as low back pain, sciatica, rotator cuff injuries, epicondylitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome (6). Early indications of MSDs can include persistent pain, restriction of joint movement, or soft tissue swelling (3, 7).

While some MSDs develop gradually over time, others may result from instantaneous events such as a single heavy lift (3). Activities outside of the workplace that involve substantial physical demands may also cause or contribute to MSDs (6). In addition, development of MSDs may be related to genetic causes, gender, age, and other factors (5, 6). Finally, there is evidence that reports of MSDs may be linked to certain psychosocial factors such as job dissatisfaction, monotonous work and limited job control (5, 6). These guidelines address only physical factors in the workplace that are related to the development of MSDs.

After implementing a program designed to eliminate manual lifting of residents, Schoellkopf Health Center in Niagara Falls, New York, reported a downward trend in the number and severity of injuries, with lost workdays dropping from 364 to 52, light duty days dropping from 253 to 25, and workers' compensation losses falling from $84,533 to $6,983 annually (4).

At Citizens Memorial Health Care Facility in Bolivar, Missouri, establishment of an ergonomics component in the existing safety and health program was reportedly followed by a reduction in the number of OSHA-recordable lifting-related injuries of at least 45% during each of the next four years, when compared to the level of injuries prior to the ergonomics efforts. The number of lost workdays associated with lifting-related injuries was reported to be at least 55% lower than levels during each of the previous four years. Citizens Memorial reported that these reductions contributed to a direct savings of approximately $150,000 in workers' compensation costs over a five-year period (8).

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210

Updated on: 09/19/17
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Ergonomics: Process for Protecting Nursing Home Workers
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Ergonomics: Process for Protecting Nursing Home Workers

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