California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed safe patient handling legislation on September 28, for the fifth time in five years. The veto means California healthcare workers may still be required to lift potentially back-breaking loads, according to a key supporter of the bill, while patients will remain vulnerable to the pain and injuries that sometimes occur as they are lifted or moved.
The vetoed legislation is Senate Bill 1151—“Hospital Patient and Health Care Worker Injury Protection Act.”
WING (Work Injured Nurses’ Group USA) noted in the October 4 report that where safe patient lifting equipment is not available, healthcare workers must lift manually if dependent patients are to be moved at all. “Injuries from placing such hazardous loads on the backs of nursing staff cannot rightfully be called ‘accidents’ but are the predictable outcome of lifting dangerous amounts of weight in awkward postures,” according to WING. “Such lifting has been proven to cause microfractures by exceeding tolerance limits of spinal structures.” The report cites the findings of a research team at Ohio State University. “None of the [manual patient] lifting techniques would be considered safe,” said William S. Marras, Ph.D., CPE, in the paper: “A Comprehensive Analysis of Low-Back Disorder Risk and Spinal Loading During the Transferring and Repositioning of Patients Using Different Techniques.” It was published in Ergonomics in 1999.
Patients are also at risk, according to WING. They can suffer pain, bruising, skin tears and abrasions, dislocations, fractures and other injuries when they are lifted or moved. Tubes can be dislodged in the process. They could even be dropped during the move.
Pointing out that SB 1151 is similar to bills he has vetoed over the last four years, Gov. Schwarzenegger argues that it is unnecessary “as current laws and regulations are in place to address the workplace health and safety needs of health care workers.”
The supporting text for SB 1151 notes that the bill will save the healthcare industry money. It points out that nurses are aging at the same time patient acuity and obesity are rising. “At a cost of between forty thousand dollars ($40,000) and sixty thousand dollars ($60,000) to train and orient each new nurse, preventing turnover from injuries will save hospitals money.”