Safe Lift Programs Reduce Long-Term Care Worker Injuries: Study

March 30, 2011

An increased emphasis on safe lift programs at long-term care facilities works to reduce workplace injuries and lower workers compensation costs, according to a new industry report.

The National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc.’s (NCCI) study, conducted in collaboration with researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, examined safe lifting programs at long-term care facilities and their impact on workers compensation costs. Results showed that an increased emphasis on safe lift programs at long-term care facilities is associated with fewer workplace injuries and lower workers compensation costs

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Statistics data noted that injury rates at long-term care facilities are higher than those for all private industries and for other healthcare fields. Long term care facilities reported an injury rate of 8.4 injuries per 100 full-time employees in 2009 compared to 3.6 injuries per 100 employees in private industry.

The growth in long-term care facilities is a direct result of an aging population. Caring for patients in long-term facilities involves manual lifting, transferring from bed to chair, and repositioning residents. A nursing assistant was estimated to perform more than 20 lifts or transfers during an average 8 hour day shift, as reported in a related study.

Factors that contribute to a lifting hazard include the size and weight of the resident, the ability of the resident to bear weight, and the resident’s cognitive ability to cooperate with the caregiver.

Previous research conducted by NCCI indicated that back injuries are a major contributor to workers compensation claims. To a large degree, these injuries are incurred by workers while lifting and moving patients. This exposure is likely to increase as this industry expands. Additional NCCI research identified the increased use of productivity-enhancing processes as a major source of improved workplace safety. The use of powered mechanical lifts in long-term care facilities supports these earlier studies regarding the importance of process innovation on workplace injuries.

The research objective was to assess the implications for workers compensation costs of safe lifting programs in long-term care facilities. The original intent was to compare facilities with and without safe lift programs, but the survey results indicate that by the end of the survey period, close to 95% of facilities had powered mechanical lifts and close to 80% routinely used them. Therefore, the focus shifted from whether or not facilities had safe lift programs to the implementation of the program.

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