OSHA Announces National Emphasis Program for Nursing and Residential Care Facilities

April 30th, 2012 by Julie Ferguson

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing and residential care facilities experienced some of the highest rates of lost workdays due to injuries and illnesses. In response to this, OSHA has announced a new National Emphasis Program for Nursing and Residential Care Facilities to protect workers from serious safety and health hazards that are common in medical industries. These hazards include exposure to blood and other potentially infectious material; exposure to other communicable diseases such as tuberculosis; ergonomic stressors related to lifting patients; workplace violence; slips, trips and falls, and exposure to hazardous chemicals and drugs. See OSHA’s complete directive PDF).
Safe Lifting
Injuries resulting from patient transfer and patient lifting are a particular area of concern. According to OSHA:

“The incidence rate for cases involving days away from work in the nursing and residential care sector was 2.3 times higher than that of all private industry as a whole, despite the availability of feasible controls to address hazards. The data further indicate that an overwhelming proportion of the injuries within this sector were attributed to overexertion as well as to slips, trips and falls. Taken together, these two categories accounted for 62.5 percent of cases involving days away from work within this industry in 2010. For this NEP, OSHA will target facilities with a days-away-from-work rate of 10 or higher per 100 full-time workers.”

According to the American Nurses Association, 12% of nurses leave the profession due to back pain. Nursing is one of the top 10 most hazardous jobs for injuries to muscles and joints. Many heavy labor industrial jobs have weight lifting limits of 50 pounds, yet nurses routinely bear many times that weight when transferring, repositioning or lifting patients. Nursing home workers in particular are at higher risk of injury than underground coal miners, construction workers, and tire manufacturers. Of the 16 million US workers employed in health care and social assistance, more than 3 million are employed in US nursing and residential care facilities.
NCCI study on safe lifting programs for long-term care facilities
A few years ago, an important NIOSH study on nursing home lifting equipment demonstrated that the benefits outweigh the costs. In addition to recapping the equipment investment in less than three years, NIOSH found a 61% reduction in resident-handling workers’ compensation injury rates; a 66% drop in lost workday rates; and a 38% decline in restricted workdays. Plus, the rate of post-intervention assaults during resident transfers dropped by 72%. Study authors found that the initial investment in equipment was recovered in less than three years based on post-intervention savings in workers’ compensation costs
More recently, further evidence was released via a study by NCCI: Safe Lifting Programs at Long-Term Care Facilities and Their Impact on Workers Compensation Costs (PDF). The study was a collaborative effort with the University of Maryland School of Medicine. It was limited to facilities that have had safe lift programs in place for more than three years. Originally, researches intended to compare the experience of facilities with and without such programs, but during the course of the research, the rate of adoption of safe lifting devices was so great that close to 95% of facilities had them and about 80% of those used them regularly.
NCCI summarizes the study results:

“After controlling for ownership structure and differences in workers compensation systems across states, the statistical analysis performed as part of this study shows that an increased emphasis on safe lift programs at long-term care facilities is associated with fewer workplace injuries and lower workers compensation costs. More precisely, higher values of the safe lift index are associated with lower values for both frequency and total costs. The safe lift index captures information on the policies, training, preferences, and barriers surrounding the use of powered mechanical lifts. The institution’s commitment to effectively implementing a safe lift program appears to be the key to success.”

According to the earlier NIOSH study, training alone is ineffective as a prevention strategy because “lifting the weight of adult patients is intrinsically unsafe.” It’s also important to note that the equipment alone won’t do it – workers also need to be trained how to use the equipment and management must implement and enforce a “zero lifting” policy.
Many states have safe patient handling laws
In recent years, a number of states have enacted legislation mandating safe patient lifting – and that no doubt has contributed to the rapid adoption rate noted by NCCI researchers. According to the American Nursing Association, a strong advocate for such legislation, 10 states have implemented safe patient handling laws. These include California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington, with a resolution from Hawaii. In addition, they are tracking 6 states with pending legislation currently: California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri and Vermont.
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