As a longtime advocate for safe patient handling programs, the American Nurses Association (ANA) applauds recent actions in Congress that would help improve patient safety and protect registered nurses and other healthcare workers from debilitating injuries that could force them from their professions.
ANA strongly supports “The Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2009” (H.R. 2381), sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), and a House Resolution introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), as steps that would reduce musculoskeletal injuries resulting from manually lifting, repositioning, and moving patients. Estimates report that 12% of registered nurses leave the profession annually because of back injuries, and 52% complain of chronic back pain. ANA believes such worker protection measures are crucial to addressing the nursing workforce shortage.
Healthcare facilities that effectively use assistive lifting equipment and devices can create safer work environments, improve quality of care for patients, and reduce work-related healthcare costs. The use of such technology improves the safety of patients by reducing the potential for patient injury from manual handling mishaps.
Rep. McCarthy’s resolution notes that registered nurses and other healthcare workers are required to lift and transfer “unreasonable loads, with the average nurse lifting 1.8 tons on an 8-hour shift,” and that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics rates registered nursing in the top 10 of all occupations reporting on-the-job injuries resulting in days away from work. This resolution will educate members of Congress, as well as others, about the need for safe patient handling and movement.
“Considering the critical need to address the current nursing shortage and ensure patient safety, ANA believes it is time to put safe patient handling and movement practices into law instead of relying only on voluntary guidelines,” said ANA President Rebecca M. Patton, MSN, RN, CNOR. “ANA’s long track record on safe patient handling is solid and strong.”
For more than a decade, ANA has supported the use of an Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standard for safe patient handling and movement, rather than voluntary guidelines for healthcare facilities. Rep. Conyers’ bill would accomplish that and would expand the standard to healthcare facilities not covered by OSHA. Moreover, the bill would protect all healthcare workers, not just direct-care registered nurses.
ANA launched the ANA Handle with Care® Campaign in 2003 to advocate for policies and legislation that would result in the elimination of manual patient handling. Prompted by the ANA campaign, eight states have enacted safe patient handling legislation. This year, ANA established ANA’s Handle with Care Recognition Program™ to recognize healthcare facilities that have had a safe patient handling program in place for at least 3 years and meet high standards for program evaluation, planning, policy, and training.
“With the emphasis on action this year to improve the quality of health care, expand access, and control costs, we can no longer afford the loss of an estimated 12% of registered nurses each year who can’t continue performing the physical requirements of the job because of back injuries and who subsequently leave bedside nursing,” said Patton. “The ANA is pleased that Representative Conyers and Representative McCarthy are addressing this crucial issue in the U.S. Congress. The nation’s 2.9 million registered nurses cannot wait.”
The ANA is the only full-service professional organization representing the interests of the nation’s 2.9 million registered nurses through its 51 constituent member nurses associations and its 24 specialty nursing and workforce advocacy affiliate organizations that currently connect to ANA as affiliates. The ANA advances the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the rights of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and lobbying the Congress and regulatory agencies on healthcare issues affecting nurses and the public.