7 Safety Tips for Physical Therapists from the Nursing World

The industry statistics and implications around workplace injuries are clear

The implications for physical therapy businesses and therapists are serious. Unfortunately, the high incidence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) has resulted in many physical therapists either changing their practice setting or leaving the profession entirely.  (academic.oup.com)

The single greatest risk factor for overexertion injuries in healthcare workers is the manual lifting, moving and repositioning of patients, residents or clients, i.e., manual patient handling. (cdc.gov)

Injuries associated with patient handling activities are common in healthcare and cost the NHS more than £80m a year.

Yet, according to a recent American Nurses Association (ANA) Health and Safety Survey,80% of nurses reporting pain from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) continued working through it. (colowrap.com)

Physical therapists are susceptible to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs), and some studies have suggested that up to 90% of physical therapists have experienced a WMSD.
Even more alarmingly, the 1-year work-related injury incidence rate for physical therapists is 20.7%. (academic.oup.com)

So what can therapists and rehabilitation providers do about this?

In this newsletter, we share some key tips recommended by respected healthcare partners to prevent injury and protect the safety of both patients and therapists.

7 safety tips for physical therapists from the nursing world

We thought these seven tips from the American Nurse Journal(https://www.myamericannurse.com) are particularly helpful for physical therapists to keep in mind when moving patients:

We thought these seven tips from the American Nurse Journal(https://www.myamericannurse.com) are particularly helpful for physical therapists to keep in mind when moving patients:

1. Don't do everything yourself.

Sharing the load with lift teams or a mechanical assist device decreases the compression strain on your spine. A quick-but-imperfect way to estimate if you need help with patient handling is to assess the patient's ability to assist with moving, and then consider the weight you'll have to support.

If you're shifting more than 16kg/35lb of a patient's weight (the weight of a midsize microwave), make sure to ask for help.

Remember that you can't safely lift a patient alone because you can't keep the weight close to your center of gravity. Make mechanical lift devices part of the “reinforcement” team.

Use case example: Rehabilitation Treadmill - 7.0T with a deck lift – for step compliance, plyometrics, ease of patient leg access for therapists and simple unweighting.

2. Know that injury isn't always from a single event.

One big heave or lift can injury your back of course, but the repetitive lifting of lighter loads can have a cumulative damaging effect on your spine. Frequent biomechanical stressors can outpace your body's ability to repair itself (similar to the mechanism of a stress fracture). The concept of cumulative damage is probably one of the least familiar principles of safe patient handling, making it the most likely to incapacitate healthcare workers.

Large, bright LED windows make it easy for clinicians to view important workout data at a glance. Patients and clinicians can quickly see essential, real-time performance feedback. Real-time streaming of patients’ data is also available for clinicians to download, including metrics such as windows display time, rotations per minute, watts, calories, METs, heart rate, and power.

Use case example: Rehabilitation Bike - 7.0R

3. Remember that body mechanics aren't enough.

Although practising proper body mechanics in general (such as raising the bed to at least knuckle height to assess patients) is important, it doesn't provide protection from injury when lifting is required.

The significant amount of weight involved and the often awkward positions patient handling requires to make manual lifting techniques inadequate at reducing injury risks. Again, the hard-and-fast rule is that manually lifting a patient by yourself isn't safe, and it can be dangerous even with coworkers' help.

Use case: Rehabilitation Recumbent Seated Stepper - 7.5S
This machine has the ability for upper-only exercise allows for increased cardiovascular conditioning without lower body movement. It is also fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure accessibility for the widest range of disabilities.

4. Don't accept injuries as “part of the job”.

Occupational injuries are never “just part of the job.” You have the right to protect your body, and your employer has an obligation to ensure your safety. When you protect yourself from harm you can be a better caregiver.

Think of it this way: You can be a more effective physical therapist in the short term and the long term if you maintain your musculoskeletal integrity.

Your employer benefits as well: Investing in nurses' long-term health (by providing safe patient handling training and mechanical assist devices) costs less than paying for shortsighted decisions in workers' compensation claims, lost workdays, modified duty days, and high nurse turnover from fatigue and injury.

5. Take the time and space to do it right.

Physical therapists, like nurses, frequently work under lots of time pressure, but patient lifting isn't an area where you want to take shortcuts. Using mechanical lift devices may take more time than manual lifting, but that extra time helps ensure not only your safety but also the patient's safety.

Space limitations also can increase the risk of musculoskeletal injury. The ANA's third interprofessional standard for safe patient handling recommends that employers redesign patient spaces to accommodate assistive equipment.

Give yourself and the equipment enough room to manoeuvre without needing to use any awkward positions, such as stooping, reaching, twisting, or bending. If patient spaces in your organisation don't allow you to do this, advocate for change.

6. Know where lifting devices are and how to use them.

Using mechanical assist lift devices is tied to adequate funding for increased availability, but the human factor also should be considered. You're more likely to use a lifting device if you know which to use, where it is, and how to operate it.

7. Report injuries as soon as possible.

Rules about reporting injuries vary based on location and your organisation's policies. Check what these rules are. For example, some organisations may mandate that injuries be reported within 24 hours.

Also keep in mind that workers' compensation claims have a limited window (about 30 days) between the date an injury occurs and the date you file a claim.

You shouldn't feel silenced or ashamed to report a work-related injury. Reporting injuries when they happen can help identify trends that lead to a safer work environment.

Even if you're not sure whether an injury is work-related or if you don't know what counts as a work-related injury report it because the consequences of not doing so (for example, no workers' compensation to defray medical costs, lack of accommodations for you in your workplace, and little meaningful change to protect other nursing staff) are costly.

Source: myamericannurse.com

Awareness, development and adherence to organisational policies make a huge difference

In addition to helping with the actual task of moving a patient, coworkers can help ensure adherence to organisation policies.

Physical therapists are more likely to use safe patient handling techniques if they have coworkers' and management's support.

Peer pressure, management guidelines (such as a “no-lift” policy), and the risk of back pain can all influence physical therapists' motivation to use mechanical lift devices.

Organisational wide practices physical therapy clinics can adopt to protect their staff from injury.

If your organisation is not enrolled in a Safe Patient Handling and Mobility (SPHM) program (and your country location have ones available), these should be carefully considered and recommended to management.

These comprise policies and equipment that allow staff to care for patients in a way that does not cause strain or injury. When properly implemented and managed, they reduce the incidence of injuries to healthcare workers. (colowrap.com)

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) pose a significant problem for physical therapists (PTs). Safe patient handling (SPH) programs were initiated to guide health care institutions in the safe and effective movement of patients with impaired mobility in an effort to reduce WMSDs in health care workers.

SPH programs and policies adopted by nursing relate primarily to patient transport.Physical therapists (PTs) should consider SPH programs both for safe patient transport and as a therapeutic tool.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) supports the use of SPH programs in physical therapy practice and adopted a position in 2012 regarding the roles of PTs and PTAs in SPH. (journals.lww.com)

When manual patient handling techniques such as transfers, bed mobility, and gait are deemed risky, these programs advocate the ergonomic strategy of using equipment to assist with patient handling.

Supporting physical therapists with equipment fit for purpose.

Dyaco Medical supports physical therapists and caregivers with ergonomics that take the strain out of moving patients.

Our affordable medical exercise equipment caters for a wide range of patients' abilities to minimise pain and discomfort when entering, using and exiting each device.

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