Safe Patient Handling: How CNOs Can Help Nurses Avoid Injury

By G Hatfield

Working in healthcare poses many safety concerns, including exposure to illness, physical injury, and workplace violence.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in 2020, hospitals recorded nearly three times more work-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time employees than in all industries combined.

One concern for nurses is the use of equipment to handle patients who are less mobile and need assistance, says Deana Sievert, Chief Nursing Officer at Ohio State Wexner University and Ross Heart Hospitals.

“Nurses are utilizing many different pieces of equipment to complete patient care,” Sievert said. “Those pieces of equipment can be very heavy or difficult to move.”

“It is more common than it should be for nurses to sustain musculoskeletal injuries such as pulled or strained muscles, and damage to bones or joints,” Sievert added, “and these can range from small sprains to career ending injuries.”

CNOs must ensure that there are proper safe patient handling procedures in place so that nurses avoid sustaining injuries.

Policies and procedures

Sievert believes CNOs need to build a culture focused on safety, where nurses have the tools they need to be successful. The policies created for safe patient handling should promote the concepts of a no-lift environment, and treat the use of safe patient handling equipment as a non-negotiable.

Sievert recalls one of the most successful no-lift cultures she worked in, where there was a safe patient handling coordinator who visited each department and made the no-lift expectations clear. The safe patient handling coordinator also evaluated each department and identified needs, providing the appropriate equipment for each kind of care.

“Safe patient handling equipment was in all areas of the hospital including ambulatory areas,” Sievert said, “and the hospital had overhead patient lifts in each patient room.”

Additionally, there were safe patient handling coaches on each unit, according to Sievert.

“These coaches were key to departmental culture,” Sievert said. “All of this body of work helped significantly drive down injury costs and days lost to injury.”

According to OSHA, having a written safe patient handling policy ensures implementation and continued success. Programs will work when there is consistent leadership making safe patient handling a visible priority, and when nurse managers and frontline staff members are involved during the development stage.

OSHA provides a safe patient handling checklist that health systems can use to evaluate their programs. The checklist is broken up into several sections:

  • Policy development
  • Management and staff involvement
  • Needs assessment
  • Equipment
  • Education and training
  • Program evaluation

CNOs can use this resource to see which areas in their safe patient handling programs are well developed and which components of the programs might need more attention.


To make safe patient handling programs a success, CNOs need to make sure that nurses receive the proper training, and that they understand the equipment and procedures to the fullest extent.

Sievert recommends that training follow the resources the organization has in place to address physical hazards.

“Training should be crystal clear in regard to the culture the organization wants to create, the expectations, and resources available,” Sievert said. “Creating that culture is key to success, and training and retraining is critical.”

According to OSHA, all staff, including physicians, must be trained in safe patient handling, through onsite demonstrations of equipment use and maintenance and broader education programs. OSHA provides the following recommendations to create a safe patient handling training program.

  • Train all relevant workers on using mechanical lift equipment
  • Refresh, remind, and require ongoing training
  • Use mentors and peer education
  • Train caregivers to check each patient’s mobility every time
  • Engage patients and their families

For more information on OSHA’s recommendations for safe patient handling, click here.

G Hatfield is the nursing editor for HealthLeaders.