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Prevention of Disabling Back Injuries in Nurses by the Use of Mechanical Patient Lift Systems

Journal of Long-Term Effects of Medical Implants, 14(6)521–533 (2004)

Richard F. Edlich, MD, PhD; Kathryne L. Winters; Mary Anne Hudson, RN, BSN; L.D. Britt, MD, MPH; & William B. Long, MD


Occupational back pain in nurses (OBPN) constitutes a major source of morbidity in the health care environment. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), occupational back injury is the second leading occupational injury in the United States. Among health care personnel, nurses have the highest rate of back pain, with an annual prevalence of 40–50% and a lifetime prevalence of 35–80%.

The American Nursing Association believes that manual patient handling is unsafe and is directly responsible for musculoskeletal disorders encountered in nurses. It has been well documented that patient handling can be done safely with the use of assistive equipment and devices that eliminate these hazards to nurses that invite serious back injuries.

The benefit of assistive patient handling equipment is haracterized by the simultaneous reduction of the risk of musculoskeletal injury to the nursing staff and improvement in the quality of care for patient populations.

To understand the cause of disabling injuries in health care workers, several factors must be considered, including the following:

  1. anatomy/physiology of the back,
  2. risk factors,
  3. medical legal implications, and 
  4. prevention.

Among nurses, back, neck, and shoulder injuries are commonly noted as the most prevalent and debilitating. While mostly associated with dependant patient care, the risk for musculoskeletal injury secondary to manual patient handling crosses all specialty areas of nursing. The skeletal defects of an abnormal back make the back more susceptible to occupational injury, even under normal stress conditions.

Workers compensation guidelines for occupational back injury differ in public and private health care sectors from state to state. Nursing personnel should be reminded that the development of back pain following occupational activities in the hospital should be reported immediately to the Occupational Health Department. A nurse’s failure to report OBPN immediately has resulted in numerous denials of claims for rehabilitation and compensation that nurses deserve. Experts believe that training in proper body mechanics does not prevent back injury. Consequently, focus has been placed on other innovative injury prevention programs, including the use of engineering controls as well as the "lift team" method. Ergonomics involves the use of mechanical devices (e.g., walking belt and mechanical hoist) to aid in patient lifting and transferring tasks.

Guldmann Inc. has devised ceiling lift systems and slings during the past 20 years. They have successfully completed thousands of installations worldwide, covering a wide range of challenging conditions and complex environments. The Guldmann ceiling-mounted hoist system consists of a wide range of lifting units, rail components, and a complete assortment of lifting slings and accessories. Its sling is made of polyester, which is characterized by its strength and elasticity. It retains its shape and is dirt repellent and easy to maintain. The Guldmann network has one of the largest and indisputably most experienced group of certified installers in the United States.

The "lift team" method was devised to remove nursing personnel from the everyday task of moving patients. This type of intervention assumes that lifting is a specialized skill to be performed only by expert professional patient movers who have been thoroughly trained in the latest lifting device techniques.

Read the full article (pdf, 177 kb)

Photos of solutions with ceiling lifts

The GH2 hoist combines high capacity lifting with an attractive, discreet design. In spite of its size, the GH2 hoist can lift up to 440 lbs.

Provides support around the chest and shoulder areas. Detachable leg straps give support around the hip area and prevent the user from sliding out of the sling.

Suitable for persons with reduced body balance, but must be able to bear weight on their legs and is great for walk training.


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