Think safety

Concordia Hospital health-care aide Darlene Payette injured herself on the job. Now she wants to make sure other health-care providers learn from her experience.

Concordia Hospital health-care aide Darlene Payette injured herself on the job. Now she wants to make sure other health-care providers learn from her experience.
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Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, March / April 2010

Darlene Payette always tried to be careful when lifting a patient into a wheelchair.

Then one day the health-care aide at Concordia Hospital was coming to the end of a double-shift when a patient required a lift. Darlene was transferring the patient with another staff member when the patient shifted. Suddenly, Darlene felt a sharp pain in her back.

Unfortunately, injury on the job is not an uncommon occurrence among health-care providers. Every year, as many as 4,500 workers injure themselves, often by lifting patients, moving them in bed or assuming awkward postures when providing care.

Now, the Winnipeg Health Region is working with the Workers Compensation Board and Manitoba Health through the SAFE Health Care program to raise awareness and help reduce the number of injuries on the job.

Payette says it's important for health-care workers to learn from her experience. She says all health-care workers should know their rights and responsibilities when it comes to on-the-job safety.

It often comes down to many situations in which one tries to do too much without help. "I often was working two or three shifts in a row. I might have to look after seven patients by myself and five of those needed lifts. I knew these patients all needed more assistance to move them safely, but there wasn't always someone around to help," says Payette, who works in the subacute medical ward at Concordia, which often cares for frail, geriatric patients. "You get into a position where you go ahead and try the transfer without help or the proper equipment.

Not only does this put the patient in danger of being hurt, it's a bad practice that puts the worker in danger of being injured. Sprained wrists, twisted and strained back muscles, and sore necks and shoulders are some of the injuries that health-care aides encounter when they try to get ahead of their workload. "Many people think they'll get their work done faster. But we're dealing with patients, who may need two people lifting them," says Payette. "I've caught people doing a two-person lift, one that called for them to use either the Sling Lift or the Sit-Stand Lift machine, by themselves without equipment, just to save a few moments. That's a very unsafe way to do a transfer."

Payette says health-care providers need to slow down and follow the rules. Each patient's chart should have a logo on it, which describes how the lifts should be done and what equipment should be used. This logo is the result of an assessment done by a physiotherapist and nursing staff. Health-care workers should not proceed with a transfer if they are unsure how to do it or do not have the right tools. They need to be empowered to stop and make sure they have all the proper information, equipment and support to do the transfer safely. Sadly, some health-care aides fail to recognize their rights and duties in this matter.

Another area of oversight occurs when a health-care aide does get injured. Many ignore the injury, and hope that putting ice on the sore spot will help. Payette says the fear of the paperwork involved in reporting the injury is an obstacle for many. But it is important to complete the injury report immediately after injury to ensure the injured worker has access to benefits such as physiotherapy and salary coverage by the Workers Compensation Board.

The SAFE Health Care program is designed to help health-care workers protect themselves from hazards.

Health-care workers must watch for five hazardous areas: ergonomic, physical, chemical, biological and psychosocial. Physical hazards include slips, trips and falls hazards, handling sharp or hot objects. Chemical hazards include cigarette smoke or industrial or consumer chemicals (cleaners). Biological hazards include potential exposures to blood and body fluids, viruses, bacteria and parasites. Poor ergonomics include improper lifts and transfers of patients or other heavy objects, as well as poorly set up computer workstations and sitting for too long. Psychosocial hazards include verbal abuse by patients, working alone, and other stresses of working.

"Employers need to be aware of the common causes of injury on the job. They also need to assess the risks and put control measures in place, as well as teach their workers what to do to protect themselves," says Stephen Diakow, a Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention Specialist who works with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority in the area of Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health. "Workers should not try to tough out a slight injury from work, only to find it gets worse. They need to talk with their employer about the problem and find a way to fix it before it gets worse or affects another worker or the patient."

Home-care nurses are another group that often get injured on the job. They care about their patients, often going beyond the call of duty, says Marcya Williamson, a home-care nurse and also the president of the Winnipeg Home Care Nurses Association. Here, slips and falls are among the most common incidents, as home-care nurses trip over broken stairs, loose carpets in rooms cluttered with the patient's possessions, or on slippery or uneven walkways.

"We've had nurses trip over IV lines set up in the night by the previous nurse," says Williamson, who broke her foot when she slipped on the front step of the apartment building her patient was living in - a break that took 12 weeks to heal. "All the nurses need to learn about safety, and how to talk to their supervisor about what is unsafe when they go to their patients' homes, and what to do about it," says Williamson.

Susie Strachan is a Winnipeg writer.

Wave: March / April 2010

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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