Safe Patient Handling

Last Updated: August 02, 2018
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​Protecting our military and civilian healthcare providers from risk of musculoskeletal injury is of vital importance as they provide the highest standard of care to injured Soldiers, retirees, and their families. Manually moving and handling patients is a risky activity undertaken many times each day by healthcare staff.

Implementation of safe patient-handling programs can result in decreased injuries, discomfort, and lost work time and increased morale and staff retention. In addition to these staff benefits, safe patient handling may reduce the risk of patient falls and skin shears. Because these factors affect the overall quality of care, it is crucial that patient-handling related injury risks be minimized and eliminated.

The APHC (Provisional) Ergonomics Program is dedicated to assisting MEDCOM facilities with developing their facility specific safe patient-handling program or assessing their current program. The APHC (Provisional) Ergonomics Program has collaborated with the Veterans Administration (VA) for nearly a decade as the VA has developed and implemented comprehensive safe patient-handling programs. Program elements the VA has identified include:


Ergonomic assessment of patient care areas

  • Area-specific equipment and storage recommendations
  • Equipment fairs
  • Identification of facility champion and unit peer leaders
  • Patient risk assessment and after action review
  • Safe patient-handling policy

For more information on Safe Patient Handling from the Veterans Administration External Link 
click on the link and scroll down to Patient Care Ergonomic Resource Guide section. 


In 2010 the Facility Guidelines Institute introduced a requirement to conduct a patient handling and movement assessment (PHAMA) into the requirements for new construction and renovation projects as part of the pre-design functional and space programming processes.

In support of this new PHAMA requirement the FGI specialty committee on patient movement published Patient Handling and Movement Assessments: A White Paper External Link. This white paper includes topics such as details of the components of a PHAMA, establishing a business case, PHAM equipment and technology, PHAM algorithms, clinical area specific equipment recommendations and a variety of PHAM related tools and surveys.

This PHAMA white paper is an excellent resource for anyone looking for more information on initiating, implementing and maintaining PHAM programs.


Other useful patient handling links can be found at the bottom of this page.


Safe Patient Handling Lateral Transfer

The APHC (Provisional) Ergonomics Program staff has used their relationship with the VA to identify and modify tools appropriate for Army healthcare settings. Through use of these tools, a comprehensive safe patient-handling program can become part of existing safety and occupational health programs.

The goal of this guidebook is to reduce the incidence and severity of job-related injuries related to patient handling and movement tasks. While there is much to learn about the science of safe patient moving and handling, the tools provided in their current form can serve as cognitive aids for both caregivers and patients. Derived from best practices within and outside health care, the program elements described in this guidebook have been tested within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and are being fully implemented on 25 nursing home care units and spinal cord injury units within VISN 8.

Similar programs are in various development stages elsewhere, including the private sector. As with any new product in field-testing, modifications may prove useful or necessary. Nevertheless, preliminary data from VHA and outside organizations suggest a decrease in the frequency and severity of injuries to caregivers through the use of this approach. In the long run, a decrease in the costs associated with such injuries, reductions in musculoskeletal pain, improved quality of life, and reductions in disability are anticipated.   

A comprehensive, successful, safe patient-handling program can decrease staff injuries and discomfort and improve retention, recruitment, and staff work satisfaction.

Safe Patient Handlin Using A Lift

Please check back at our Safe Patient-Handling website to see our fact sheet that looks at the benefits not only to the healthcare provider, but to the patient and facility as well.

Useful Links

  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs     VA Patient Safety Center of Inquiry External Link 

American Nurses Association Logo  American Nurses Association Ergonomics Handle With Care External Link 


NIOSH Logo  NIOSH Safe Patient Handling and Movement Presentation External Link  


 OSHA Logo OSHA Hospital eTool Ergonomics External Link 

  OHSA Hospital eTool Applicable Standards