NCOIL Resolution Supports OSHA Ergonomics Guidelines; Hopes for Reduction in Workers’ Compensation Claims

March 3, 2005

A resolution supporting ergonomics guidelines for nursing homes and encouraging such facilities to use alternative mechanical lifting methods was unanimously approved on Thursday by the Workers’ Compensation Committee at the spring National Conference of Insurance Legislators in Hilton Head, S.C.

The ergonomics measure was proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Senator Ann Cummings, D-VT, sponsor of the NCOIL resolution, also chaired the committee meeting.

The goals of OSHA’s ergonomics guidelines are to reduce ergonomic-related injuries and workers’ compensation claims in the nursing home industry. OSHA’s goals are to: Develop a process to protect workers; identify problems and implement solutions for resident lifting and repositioning; identify problems and implement solutions for resident lifting and repositioning; identify problems and implementing solutions for activities other than resident lifting and repositioning; training; and additional sources of information.

The guidelines are designed specifically for the nursing home industry, but OSHA hopes employers with similar work environments, such as assisted living center, homes for the disabled, homes for the aged and hospitals will also find the information useful.

Cummings emphasized that the guidelines are a set of recommendations, not standards or laws, aimed at reducing the number and severity of work-related injuries and associated workers’ compensation insurance costs, by using methods that have proven successful in nursing homes.

OSHA says that specific measures or guideline implementations may differ from site to site. Still, it recommends that all facilities minimize manual lifting of residents in all cases and eliminate such lifting when feasible. Further, OSHA encourages employers to implement a basic ergonomic process that provides management support while involving workers, identifying problems and implementing solutions, addressing reports of injuries, provide training and evaluating ergonomics efforts.

The committee voted on its recommendation after a presentation on promoting a safe workplace by David Askew, a registered nurse with Ethica Healthcare, a non-profit organization that manages 42 nursing homes and two assisted-living facilities that takes care of 3,500 patients and has 5,000 employees. Yolanda Pence, a professional therapist with Integra Rehabilitation, Ethica’s primary rehabilitation provider, operates 61 sites and 150 associates.

Askew described Ethica’s safety improvement team encompassing all allied disciplines from certified nursing assistant to regional vice presidents. He said that every two months these employees participate in an evaluation process to access the success of a no-lift program which has totally eliminated manual lifting and relies totally on mechanical lifts; workers’ compensation and has partnered with Emory University to develop and trial their fall-prevention program.

Askew described Ethica’s safety audits and annual examinations of each center using a 350-item checklist which includes OSHA recommendations, fire drill records and basic practices. Askew said OSHA was helped implement the program and attends the meetings.

Ethica implemented an incentive program to prevent lost time, including a drawing at the end of each month to present awards and prizes to employees that have no lost time. They have also developed a return to work or transitional work program to try to get people back into the workforce as soon as possible.

Pense illustrated three different types of mechanical equipment used to lift patients and described how employee resistance to using such equipment was overcome. She stressed the importance of having lifts readily available and said they were targeting workers’ compensation claims and limiting employee injuries.

“At first we encountered resistance, but in four to six weeks the employees thought it was the best thing since sliced bread,” Pense said. “Patients also endorsed it, saying they felt much more secure.”

Pense said statistics show that after six months of implementation the number of patients lifted increased, while patient injuries and their severity decreased. She said the program kicked off in July of 2003 and the occurrence of employee claims for light duty were dramatically reduced.

The program was phased in to two nursing homes and due to its success it will now be implemented in all facilities. They estimated that the costs for new equipment would be recouped within two years after a program’s implementation.

NCOIL’s conference continues through Sunday with meetings continuing today on natural disaster insurance legislation, a task force on terrorism and special committee hearings on database model act proposals. The highlight of the meetings will occur on Saturday when broker compensation and its impact on the insurance market will be discussed.

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