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Manual handling: the challenges of different care environments

26 March 2020
12 min read
Volume 29 · Issue 6


Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) continue to be a problem in the health and social care setting, despite staff receiving mandatory manual handling training for many decades. The author discusses WRMSDs, with a focus on various nursing roles. The principle of manual handling as solely ‘person moving’ or ‘transferring’ is challenged because a range of activities can cause musculoskeletal problems. The legislation and regulations are explored in relation to practice. The benefits of introducing a specific risk-assessment tool designed for nurses working in neonatal wards is discussed.

According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2020) work-related low back pain and injuries are among of the most common musculoskeletal disorders caused by manual handling.

Back pain in staff working in the health sector has been a long-standing problem (Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 2019a). Over the years, trusts have employed various manual-handling training schemes, and made equipment available to assist staff, carers and patients during manual-handling tasks. Equipment such as hoists is now commonplace in care settings, both in hospital and community settings (Davis and Kotowski, 2015). Despite this, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), including work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs), continue to be a problem (Ribeiro et al, 2017).

Health and social care work settings have higher than average reported instances of MSDs, with more than 1400 instances per 100 000 employees (HSE, 2019a). Only construction and the combined agriculture, forestry and fishing industries have higher rates (HSE, 2019a). Although nurses have historically suffered lower back pain (Van Hoof et al, 2018), MSDs affect all muscles, joints and tendons of the body and manifest as lower back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain (with or without headaches), and upper and lower limb discomfort. Types of MSD presenting in the general population are now categorised by specific parts of the body (HSE, 2019a) as detailed in Table 1.

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