Injuries among nursing home workers significantly decreased after the start of a safety program that included mechanical lifting equipment and training on how to use it, according to a NIOSH-funded study at the University of Massachusetts Lowell published in the journal Safety Science.

Compared to workers in other occupations, nursing home workers have a higher rate of work-related injury to the muscles and bones. In fact, musculoskeletal injury results in more days of work missed among nursing home workers than among construction workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Often, these injuries result from tasks that involve manually lifting or moving nursing home residents. Consequently, occupational safety and health specialists are interested in whether mechanical lifting equipment can help reduce injury and protect workers.

For this 8-year study, investigators compared injury rates from before a safety program began to after the program had been in place for 6 years. Started by a large healthcare corporation to reduce musculoskeletal injuries, the program included purchasing mechanical lifting equipment and training workers to use it. The program also provided the nursing homes with detailed procedures for using and maintaining the equipment.

Using workers’ compensation claims, the investigators compared injury rates for 136 nursing homes in 11 states employing 18,571 full-time employees annually, on average. Claims related to resident handling decreased by 32% within the first 3 years of the study and by 38% within 4 to 6 years. Overall, injury claims decreased in 72% of participating centers after 6 years, and resident-handling claims decreased by 82%. Based on these findings, the investigators concluded that mechanical lifting equipment helped reduce injuries among the nursing home workers in this study. Since injuries still occurred, however, more research is necessary to understand the causes and prevention of musculoskeletal injury among nursing home workers.

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