Am I Required to Manually Lift Heavy Patients?

Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD

Disclosures

June 21, 2013

Solutions for Heavy Lifting in the Workplace

Usually, if a job requires heavy lifting, that requirement is stated in the announcement for the job opening and the job description, and the number of pounds expected to be lifted are specified. That way, only those individuals who are willing and able to perform heavy lifting will apply. If that wasn't done, and you were surprised that heavy lifting is a requirement of the job, then in my opinion, the appropriate thing to do is to bring up the problem with the practice owner. Perhaps there is a solution, such as purchasing or leasing a lift. Perhaps the patients who need lifting can be scheduled on the same afternoon, and extra help can be hired for those afternoons. Or, maybe several other people in the office can be called in so that the lifting is a 4-person, rather than a 2-person, job.

If the lifting is truly a common occurrence, the physician needs to hire individuals who are up to and who agree to do the heavy lifting. Even if the nurses understood that heavy lifting was required for the job and agree to it, it makes sense to handle the transfers in the safest way possible. If a nurse is injured, then it is likely to be a workers' compensation case.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has guidelines on how to protect employees from injury when performing transfers. The document, aimed at nursing facilities but also applicable to doctor's offices, is called "Ergonomics for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders." The guidelines suggest using a full-body sling lift when moving a nonambulatory, nonparticipatory patient from chair to stretcher (a transfer that seems similar to moving from chair to examination table).

You can point out that this is not only a nurse safety issue, but also a patient safety issue. If the transfers are not handled in the way suggested by OSHA and if a patient is injured, the practice would probably be liable for damages if the patient sued.

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