Doing it right

New techniques for patient transfers help reduce workplace injuries

New techniques for patient transfers help reduce workplace injuries
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SAFE health care

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, May / June 2010

It didn't take Marlene Sul long to assess the situation.

A patient in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at the Health Sciences Centre needed to be transferred from bed to gurney. In the past, Sul, a health-care assistant, would have tried to move the patient on her own, possibly risking injury to herself in the process.

Not this time. Thanks to a relatively new training program being implemented throughout the Winnipeg Health Region, Sul was now in a position to determine the best - and safest - way to transfer the patient.

Drawing on her training, Sul quickly checked out information posted at the patient's bedside for clues about his mobility. She determined the patient could be moved by using something called a slider - a length of very slippery cloth with handles along the sides, which can be slipped under a patient.

Sul and another health-care assistant teamed up to move the patient and slip the slider underneath. Once the slider was in place, Sul counted down "one, two, three," and the two of them transferred the patient from the bed to the gurney with amazing ease.

For Sul, the story illustrates the value of the training she received. "You don't have to work hard," she explains. "You learn to transfer your weight and use that to pull the patient along, rather than pushing them with your arms."

The training session on sliders is just one example of how the Winnipeg Health Region is working to help health-care aides, nurses and other medical staff to transfer patients safely and easily. It's part of an overall effort to reduce the number of injuries suffered by health-care providers during the course of their duties.

That effort involves a training course for each and every worker who handles patients, says Daria McLean, Director of Services with Occupational Environmental Safety & Health, who is in charge of the training.

In the Bariatric / Non Bariatric Safe Patient Handling course at HSC, Sul and others learned how to use equipment such as sliders and mechanical lifts, as well as how to use weight transfer and body movement to move patients. The training also includes a run-through of patient evaluation forms, which nurses must fill out weekly or if there has been a change in a patient's mobility. Patient evaluations are used to fill out a visual chart, which outlines a patient's mobility, whether they require lifts and sliders to move them, and how many staff are required to make the transfer.

"We use eight case studies in the course, to teach the staff how to evaluate a patient by going through a series of yes or no questions about how to get that patient up," says Susan Thorvaldson, a musculoskeletal injury prevention specialist and one of three trainers in the program.

The problems associated with transferring patients have become more pronounced in recent years. The stress of moving patients from bed to chair, from bed to bed, from bed to gurney, all day long, can result in a lot of back pain, aches and sprains for nurses, unit assistants, health-care aides and other staff. For example, statistics show that 84 per cent of staff members at Health Sciences Centre will have a back problem at some point in their career. That affects their job performance and spills over into their private lives.

But things are changing. Since the patient handling course was implemented in May 2008, about 1,500 staff members have been trained, and another 1,500 are expected to complete the eight-hour course. In addition, HSC administration recently invested $160,000 in new equipment aimed at making the job of transferring patients a lot easier.

And injury numbers are dropping. Between May 2008 and March 31, 2009, the medical wards of the HSC complex reported 59 injuries among staff who work in patient handling, including 22 who lost time at work. In the time since HSC began the training, from May 2009 to March 31, 2010, the medical wards of the complex recorded 33 injuries among staff related to patient handling, including the 11 who missed time from work.

McLean says the success of the program can be attributed to a commitment from the many people at HSC. "In every single area, we have seen a drop in musculoskeletal injuries, which will result in a decrease of our Workers Compensation Board experience rates."

In addition to using sliders, the program also includes training in the use of mechanical lifts. In these sessions, staff members are taught to use sit-stand lifts and whole-body lifts. New international safety standards recommend health-care staff do not lift more than 35 lbs of a patient's weight at any time. A 350-pound patient may have a leg that weighs more than 35 pounds, so it's prudent to use a sling and a mechanical lift to raise the leg, says Thorvaldson.

Trainers also visit hospital wards to learn about real-life issues that health-care providers face in carrying out their jobs. Glenn Seroy, one of the trainers, says the chance to see the staff in action is invaluable. For example, trainers discovered during their visits to the wards that it is important to have one staff member take the lead when moving a patient.

"We looked at cases where the patient was fearful of being lifted or unco-operative, and discovered that they needed to really trust someone in the group lifting them," Seroy says. That trusted person needs to become the person who calls the shots, who decides how fast the pace will be when moving a patient." The training now calls for one of a group of staff to take the lead when moving or lifting a patient.

Another one of the trainers, Gail Archer-Heese, is in the process of creating a specialized program to teach HSC staff who care for pediatric patients at the Children's Hospital. Other hospitals in Manitoba are also interested in the Bariatric / Non-bariatric Safe Patient Handling course.


Learn more about making the health-care workplace safer by downloading information from the SAFE Work website. The WRHA provides training for all its workers, in areas of safety, risk assessment and prevention, along with workers rights and responsibilities.

If you would like to learn more about the various training programs underway throughout the Winnipeg Health Region, please contact Daria McLean, Director of Services with Occupational Environmental Safety & Health, at 787-4817.

Susie Strachan is a Winnipeg writer.


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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