Ergonomics: Process for Protecting Nursing Home Workers

Ergonomics: Guidelines for Nursing Homes

Section II. A Process for Protecting Workers

The number and severity of injuries resulting from physical demands in nursing homes -- and associated costs -- can be substantially reduced (2, 9). Providing an alternative to manual resident lifting is the primary goal of the ergonomics process in the nursing home setting and of these guidelines. OSHA recommends that manual lifting of residents be minimized in all cases and eliminated when feasible. OSHA further recommends that employers develop a process for systematically addressing ergonomics issues in their facilities, and incorporate this process into an overall program to recognize and prevent occupational safety and health hazards.

An effective process should be tailored to the characteristics of the particular nursing home but OSHA generally recommends the following steps:

Provide Management Support
Strong support by management creates the best opportunity for success. OSHA recommends that employers develop clear goals, assign responsibilities to designated staff members to achieve those goals, provide necessary resources, and ensure that assigned responsibilities are fulfilled. Providing a safe and healthful workplace requires a sustained effort, allocation of resources and frequent follow-up that can only be achieved through the active support of management.

Involve Employees
Employees are a vital source of information about hazards in their workplace. Their involvement adds problem-solving capabilities and hazard identification assistance, enhances worker motivation and job satisfaction, and leads to greater acceptance when changes are made in the workplace. Employees can:

  • submit suggestions or concerns;
  • discuss the workplace and work methods;
  • participate in the design of work, equipment, procedures, and training;
  • evaluate equipment;
  • respond to employee surveys;
  • participate in task groups with responsibility for ergonomics; and
  • participate in developing the nursing home's ergonomics process.

Identify Problems Nursing homes can more successfully recognize problems by establishing systematic methods for identifying ergonomics concerns in their workplace. Information about where problems or potential problems may occur in nursing homes can be obtained from a variety of sources, including OSHA 300 and 301 injury and illness information, reports of workers' compensation claims, accident and near-miss investigation reports, insurance company reports, employee interviews, employee surveys, and reviews and observations of workplace conditions. Once information is obtained, it can be used to identify and evaluate elements of jobs that are associated with problems. Sections III and IV contain further information on methods for identifying ergonomics concerns in the nursing home environment.

Implement Solutions
When problems related to ergonomics are identified, suitable options can then be selected and implemented to eliminate hazards. Effective solutions usually involve workplace modifications that eliminate hazards and improve the work environment. These changes usually include the use of equipment, work practices, or both. When choosing methods for lifting and repositioning residents, individual factors should be taken into account. Such factors include the resident's rehabilitation plan, the need to restore the resident's functional abilities, medical contraindications, emergency situations, and resident dignity and rights. Examples of solutions can be found in Sections III and IV.

Address Reports of Injuries
Even in establishments with effective safety and health programs, injuries and illnesses may occur. Work-related MSDs should be managed in the same manner and under the same process as any other occupational injury or illness (10). Like many injuries and illnesses, employers and employees can benefit from early reporting of MSDs. Early diagnosis and intervention, including alternative duty programs, are particularly important in order to limit the severity of injury, improve the effectiveness of treatment, minimize the likelihood of disability or permanent damage, and reduce the amount of associated workers' compensation claims and costs. OSHA's injury and illness recording and reporting regulation (29 CFR 1904) requires employers to keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses. These reports can help the nursing home identify problem areas and evaluate ergonomic efforts. Employees may not be discriminated against for reporting a work-related injury or illness. [29 U.S.C. 660(c)]

Provide Training
Training is necessary to ensure that employees and managers can recognize potential ergonomics issues in the workplace, and understand measures that are available to minimize the risk of injury. Ergonomics training can be integrated into general training on performance requirements and job practices. Effective training covers the problems found in each employee's job. More information on training can be found in Section V.

Evaluate Ergonomics Efforts
Nursing homes should evaluate the effectiveness of their ergonomics efforts and follow-up on unresolved problems. Evaluation helps sustain the effort to reduce injuries and illnesses, track whether or not ergonomic solutions are working, identify new problems, and show areas where further improvement is needed. Evaluation and follow-up are central to continuous improvement and long-term success. Once solutions are introduced, OSHA recommends that employers ensure they are effective. Various indicators (e.g., OSHA 300 and 301 information data and workers' compensation reports) can provide useful empirical data at this stage, as can other techniques such as employee interviews. For example, after introducing a new lift at a nursing home, the employer should follow-up by talking with employees to ensure that the problem has been adequately addressed. In addition, interviews provide a mechanism for ensuring that the solution is not only in place, but is being used properly. The same methods that are used to identify problems in many cases can also be used for evaluation.


(2) Garg, A. 1999. Long-Term Effectiveness of "Zero-Lift Program" in Seven Nursing Homes and One Hospital. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institution for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Cincinnati, OH. August. Contract No. U60/CCU512089-02. (Ex. 3-3)

(9) U.S. General Accounting Office. 1997. Worker Protection - Private Sector Ergonomics Programs Yield Positive Results. August. GAO/HEHS-97-163. (Ex. 3-92)

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

Updated on: 12/10/09
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Ergonomics: Identifying Problems in Nursing Homes
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Ergonomics: Identifying Problems in Nursing Homes

Assessing the potential for work-related injuries in nursing homes is complex because typical operations involved repeated lifting and repositioning of residents.
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