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Back Safety Tips for Caregivers

Healthcare workers often experience musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) at a rate exceeding that of workers in construction, mining, and manufacturing.  These injuries are due in large part to repeated manual patient handling activities, often involving heavy manual lifting associated with transferring, and repositioning patients and working in extremely awkward postures. The problem of lifting patients is compounded by the increasing weight of patients to be lifted due to the obesity epidemic in the United States and the rapidly increasing number of older people who require assistance with the activities of daily living. Direct and indirect costs associated with back injuries in the healthcare industry are estimated to be $20 billion annually.

Prevention is key.  Below are some tips that all caregivers and health care professionals should follow:

  • Have a wide stance-you should stand with your legs shoulder width apart, and one foot slightly ahead of the other.  This gives you a wide balanced stance.
  • Always face the person you are lifting or moving, and move them toward you, not away from you. 
  • When lifting, moving or carrying any object or person, keep it (or him/her) close to your body.
  • Do not twist your body when turning with an object or client. Instead, pick up your feet and pivot your body in the direction you want to turn.
  • Push, pull or slide objects instead of lifting them.  Learn to use tools such as a gait belt or hoyer lift to help with transfers and moving clients so you don't have to lift.  You'll save your back!
  • When lifting or moving, your movements should be steady and even, not rough or jerky.  Use a countdown to help coordinate lifting with others.
  • Use ladders and step stools to avoid reaching for things above chest height.  Be careful, though when using a stool or ladder so that you are always safe.
  • Get help-know what your limits are, and if you need help, ask for it. Ask for help even when you think you can do it without help.  Having someone close by if you need help is a smart, safe move.

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