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The Case for Ergonomics in Assisted Living Facilities

Chris Murray
Posted on: June 26, 2019 by Chris Murray

In the healthcare profession, staff injuries occur at an alarming rate. Injuries range from minor slip and fall incidents to severe musculoskeletal strains and sprains that can leave the caregiver unable to complete his or her duties. Increasing patient demands, including transferring and moving patients, can lead to injuries that create chronic pain and lost productivity. Assisted living facility insurance is the foundation of any risk management initiative, but protecting staff members from injury is a critical component. In this guide, we’ll explore the concept of ergonomics and how implementing ergonomic equipment and features can help reduce the chances of injury among caregiving staff. 

A Brief Word on Caregiver Injuries

The nursing profession has the highest rate of non-fatal occupational injuries in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The injury rate among healthcare professionals exceeds even that of hazardous work conditions found in the mining and commercial logging industries. Long considered a part of the job, healthcare injuries are on the rise; overexertion injury rates associated with patient transfers and handling account for about 107 injuries per 10,000 nursing home workers, or about three times the national average across industries. Common staff injuries related to overexertion include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Lower- and middle-back pain
  • Sciatica
  • Joint displacements

The consequences of these injuries can be dire, resulting in lost wages, chronic pain, and early retirement, not to mention the expenses incurred by the healthcare facilities where staff are injured. 

OSHA Guidelines for Assisted Living Facilities

Faced with rising injury rates among workers in healthcare operations like assisted living facilities, federal regulatory agencies stepped in to address the problem. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a set of guidelines entitled, “Guidelines for Nursing Homes” in 2003, with revisions in 2009. The guide provides a process for:

  • Identifying potential risks.
  • Creating a reporting mechanism for on-the-job injuries.
  • Providing staff training.
  • Implementing solutions, including implementing ergonomics into the facility operations.

It is ergonomics that stands out in the OSHA Guidelines – a concept that has gained attention for its ability to reduce worker injuries and one that provides substantial benefits for facility managers and owners alike. 

Ergonomics in Assisted Living Facilities

What are ergonomics? In simple terms, ergonomics refers to the study of work habits with the goal of modifying work environments and equipment to suit the worker, rather than having the worker conform to the limits of the environment. Ergonomic equipment and procedures are designed to reduce repetitive-use injuries and overexertion, helping to reduce the chances of serious injury on the job. There are additional benefits to implementing ergonomics in the assisted living facility operation, including:

  • Improving productivity
  • Improving safety
  • Enhancing work performance
  • Reducing expenses associated with worker injury claims, such as in workers’ compensation programs and assisted living facility insurance. 

In order for ergonomics to be effective in the healthcare industry, it is imperative that comprehensive plans include staff training and evaluation. Investigating common work habits, especially in the manual movement, lifting, and transfer of patients, is the start of the process of implementation. Identifying potential hazards is the key to moving forward, protecting staff and patients from avoidable injury risks. 

Training is the next part of the process. Workers should be an integral part of this aspect of the ergonomics implementation, giving them the ability to voice their own concerns about common injury risks they face and how those risks can be mitigated. Training should include the proper use of equipment, safety procedures, and instruction on posture, repetitive motions, and identifying the indicators signifying that an injury may occur. 

Ergonomic features may include:

  • Specialized patient lifting and transporting equipment.
  • Implementing “lift teams” to handle patients. 
  • Implementing patient-handling policies with an eye toward safety.
  • Reducing workplace hazards such as those producing slips, trips, and falls.
  • Adopting continuing training and re-training programs, especially for newer staff members. 

Key Takeaways from Ergonomic Practices and Programs

Assisted living facilities are tasked with providing compassionate care to their residents. They are also responsible for providing a safe working environment for caregivers and support staff. Ergonomics is the key to both – reducing injury risks for patients and staff through careful analysis of risk factors and the implementation of programs to enhance workplace safety. 

With ergonomics as the core of workplace safety, facility owners and managers can reduce the overhead expenses associated with injury claims. Assisted living facility insurance is part of the solution, protecting against numerous claims. Safe workplaces are more productive workplaces, and by adding ergonomic features, training, and equipment, assisted living facilities can continue to provide valuable care to those who need it most. 

About Caitlin Morgan

Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at 877.226.1027.

Posted in: Assisted Living Facility Insurance blog Workers Comp Workers Compensation