Statistics from the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission for the aged care industry show that in 1996–97 strains and sprains made up three-quarters of all the workers’ compensation injuries that occurred. It is important to remember that manual handling injuries can be the result of lots of stresses and strains over time. Often the immediate cause is only part of the picture. The most commonly injured part of the body is the back, followed by the shoulder, arm, hand and neck.

The number of injuries was unrelated to the number of people participating in the patient lift. As many injuries occurred during team lifting, as when the patient was lifted by one person. Very few injuries involved the use of hoists.

OH&S Regulations impose particular requirements on employers with respect to manual handling risks. Even with team lifting the injury rates remained high. It is now generally understood that ‘good lifting technique’ is not the answer to back injury prevention. For many years, this had been the thrust for reducing injury, despite the fact that injury rates were not improving.

So what had to change?

Data is now available which indicates that the steady implementation of risk management and manual handling injury prevention programs (such as manual handling training courses) has coincided with the reduction in incidence of back injury. This has resulted in a major cultural change for the health industry.

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