1. Section Editor(s): Thompson, Elizabeth M. MSN, RN, CNOR

Article Content

In February, National Public Radio (NPR) produced a series of programs on nurse injuries. The series opened with this statement: "NPR's Daniel Zwerdling investigates one of the most dangerous jobs in America. These workers get disabled by back and other injuries more than construction workers, firefighters, and police."1

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Patient positioning

A friend of mine recently experienced a work-related injury. She injured her back lifting a patient and is no longer able to work in the OR setting, a situation she regrets because being a perioperative nurse was always her first career choice.


The perioperative setting has its own unique challenges when it comes to safe patient handling. Holding limbs for and during prepping, holding retractors, turning patients from a supine to a prone position, standing for long periods, moving heavy equipment, an aging workforce, and increasing obesity rates may be contributing factors to musculoskeletal injuries in the OR environment.


Manual patient handling methods

The CDC states that replacing manual patient handling methods with mechanical equipment is the only way to reduce overexertion injuries.2,3 Using proper body mechanics will not prevent ergonomic injuries, and "there is no such thing as safe manual lifting."4 Unfortunately, there are barriers to using equipment for safe patient handling in the OR. Gaps identified in the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses tool kit include equipment not yet developed for the unique patient handling needs in the OR, equipment existing but not purchased, and equipment available to the staff but not used.2


Safe patient handling statutes

Although there is no federal law regarding safe patient handling, 11 states have passed safe patient handling statutes.3 The solution is an injury and illness prevention program that identifies potentially unsafe patient handling situations and includes these six core elements:


* Management leadership


* Employee participation


* Hazard identification and assessment


* Hazard prevention and control


* Education and training


* Program evaluation and improvement.5



While an injury prevention program may be the solution to decreasing musculoskeletal exertion injuries, it falls on each of us to take advantage and implement the education, equipment, and resources needed to promote safe patient handling and prevent further injuries.


Elizabeth M. Thompson, MSN, RN, CNOR

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Editor-in-Chief Nursing Education Specialist Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. [email protected]




1. American Nurses Association. Nursing World: NPR series on nurse injuries. 2015. [Context Link]


2. AORN. Safe patient handling and movement in the perioperative setting tool kit. 2015. [Context Link]


3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Safe patient handling. n.d. [Context Link]


4. Stokowski L. The risky business of nursing. Medscape Nurses. 2014. [Context Link]


5. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Worker safety in your hospital: know the facts. 2015. [Context Link]