ISCRR was recently asked to look into an intriguing question: is there a link between health and safety of healthcare workers and the clinical outcomes of their patients?

Healthcare workers experience some of the highest rates of nonfatal occupational illness and injury, including work related musculoskeletal disorders, fatigue and burnout. Studies consistently show that interventions such as safe patient handling programs help to reduce the number and severity of injuries to healthcare workers. There is also increasing evidence showing a connection between worker health and safety and improving patient outcomes.

Healthcare workers experience some of the highest rates of nonfatal occupational illness and injury

Our review of the current evidence focussed on two main areas:

  • the association between worker overall health and patient outcomes, and
  • the effect on patient outcomes of interventions such as safe patient handling programs and assistive devices.

The key findings were:

  • Mechanical lifting devices, ergonomic lift assist devices and patient positioning devices improve patient comfort and safety.
  • Patient positioning devices and use of mechanical lifting devices can reduce the risk of pressure injury by up to 17%.
  • Safe patient handling programs and use of mechanical lifting devices can improve patient mobility outcomes by up to 12%.
  • Ergonomically designed operating room equipment may reduce medical errors rates.
  • Patient outcomes are negatively impacted by work environment factors such as shifts greater than 12 hours in length, presence of common mental disorders such as depression or anxiety among workers, burnout, and disruptive behaviour and workplace bullying.

A follow-up environmental scan identified the new and emerging patient manual handling initiatives that aim to prevent worker musculoskeletal disorders and have impact on patient safety. Patient manual handling coordinators have developed and implemented a range of initiatives by examining injury causes and claims data, collaborating with OHS managers, ward managers, consultants and staff, and through identifying initiatives in other hospitals and health facilities.

It is anticipated that the findings of this review will inform WorkSafe Victoria about approaches to promote the implementation of integrated worker and patient health and safety initiatives.

The findings will be presented at the ANMF Safe Patient Handling Special Interest Group Forum on 18 May and the Australian Association of Manual Handling of People Conference on 23 May.

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