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Safety analysis of patient transfers and handling tasks


Background: Low-back disorders are related to biomechanical demands, and nurses are among the professionals with the highest rates. Quantification of risk factors is important for safety assessment and reduction of low-back disorders.

Objective: This study aimed to quantify physical demands of frequent nursing tasks and provide evidence-based recommendations to increase low-back safety.

Methods: Thirty-six volunteer female nurses participated in a cross-sectional study of nine nursing tasks. Lumbar range of motion (ROM) and motion during nursing tasks were measured. Compression and shear forces at L5/S1, ligament strain and percentage of population without sufficient torso strength to perform 14 phases of nine nursing tasks were estimated.

Results: Peak flexions during trolley-to-bed, bed-to-chair and chair-to-bed transfers reached the maximum flexion ROM of the nurses. Average lumbar flexion during trolley-to-bed transfers was >50% of flexion ROM, being higher than during all other tasks. Mean (SD) compression at L5/S1 (4754 N (437 N)) and population without sufficient torso strength (37% (9%)) were highest during the pushing phase of bed-to-trolley transfers. Shear force (487 N (40 N)) and ligament strain (14% (5%)) were highest during the pulling phase of trolley-to-bed transfers.

Conclusions: Nursing tasks impose high biomechanical demands on the lumbar spine. Excessive lumbar flexion and forces are critical aspects of manual transfers requiring most of the nurses’ capabilities. Evidence-based recommendations to improve low-back safety in common nursing tasks were provided. Fitness to work, job modifications and training programs can now be designed and assessed based on the results.

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