An Overview of Safe Patient Handling Practices

April 18, 2023

safe patient handlingPatient handling tasks, such as lifting and moving patients, are integral parts of both acute and long-term care healthcare settings. These tasks, however, must be done safely to reduce the risk of injury to both caregivers and patients. This guide will discuss the importance and main principles of safe patient handling and mobility.

The Importance of Safe Patient Handling 

The goal of safe patient handling is to protect both healthcare providers and patients when lifting, moving, repositioning, or any task that requires bodily force to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, or support patients. To complete these tasks safely and successfully, it is important to use assistive devices whenever possible and provide appropriate training to healthcare staff. 

Healthcare workers, especially nurses and nursing assistants, are at a high risk of musculoskeletal injuries. This is often due to improper lifting equipment, techniques, or posture when performing tasks such as lifting, repetitive overhead work, and forceful gripping activities. Common musculoskeletal disorders include sprains, strains, tears, carpal tunnel syndrome, shoulder impingement syndrome, and epicondylitis.

To minimize the risk of injury, it is important for healthcare providers to receive proper training on how to handle patients safely. This includes using the proper equipment and assessing the patient’s mobility level prior to performing any movement or transfer. Utilizing the right knowledge and skills can lead to improved patient outcomes and safety in healthcare settings. 

Types of Patient Transfer 

Patient handling involves a wide variety of transfer types, ranging from partially assisted to fully assisted. Common types of patient transfer include:

  • Lateral transfers, such as from a bed to a stretcher
  • Transfers to or from a sitting position, such as from a bed to a chair or a chair to a toilet 
  • Repositioning a patient in a bed, chair, or stretcher 
  • Ambulation 
  • Returning a patient to a bed, chair, or toilet after a fall

Safe Patient Handling Devices 

Assistive devices and safe patient handling tools can help mitigate injury risk by decreasing the bodily force required to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, or support a patient. These devices include patient shifters, rollboards, transfer boards, lifts and slings, bed rails and transfer handles, gait belts, and repositioning aids for boosting or turning. It is important to use these devices when handling patients as they help reduce strain on providers while ensuring patient safety throughout the process.  

  • Patient shifters and rollboards are generally used for lateral transfers, such as from bed to stretcher. 
  • Transfer boards are generally used for transfers from a bed to a wheelchair or a toilet. 
  • Lifts and slings are generally used for patients who need full assistance with movement into and out of a bed or chair, toileting and bathing tasks, repositioning, lifting appendages, recovery after a fall, or vehicle transfers. 
  • Bed rails and transfer handles are generally used to help patients get into and out of bed. 
  • Gait belts are generally used to assist patients who can fully or partially support their own weight with activities such as standing and walking.
  • Repositioning aids are often used for in-bed repositioning such as boosting, turning, or proning for patients who have no or limited mobility. 

The type of device should be chosen based on each individual situation, considering the size and condition of the patient, the number of staff members available, and the type of transfer or movement being performed. Some devices are also disposable, antimicrobial, or disinfectable to reduce the risk of cross-contamination where infection control is a concern.

It is important to remember that manual patient handling should never be an option. The best practice is to use assistive devices, making it imperative for healthcare facilities to invest in the proper equipment and training for their staff. This can help ensure compliance with safety regulations while maximizing productivity in healthcare settings. 

Safe Patient Handling Policies

Safe patient handling policies are an important part of any healthcare facility. These policies outline procedures related to tasks involving patient handling and movement, including safe lift, transfer, repositioning, and supporting activities with regard to both employees and patients. 

Establishing clear protocols can help protect employees from sustaining work-related injuries due to unsafe practices and help ensure high-quality care for patients who may require assistance due to physical limitations or medical conditions. This, in turn, will minimize the financial costs associated with these workplace injuries.

When building a safe patient handling program, it is important to keep the following principles in mind:

  1. Plan Ahead: Before attempting to lift or transfer any patient, always make sure to plan in advance. It is important to assess the situation and ensure you have all the necessary staff and equipment needed for each individual patient.  
  2. Get Help: If possible, get assistance from other staff members who can help move the patient safely and securely.
  3. Use Proper Techniques: Proper body mechanics are essential when lifting or transferring patients. Use your legs and arms instead of relying on your back muscles for support. Make sure to keep a straight back and bend at the knees when picking up heavy objects such as a wheelchair.
  4. Use Assistive Devices: Assistive devices and mechanical aids should be used to reduce strain on healthcare providers' bodies while performing patient handling tasks quickly, safely, and efficiently.
  5. Implement Training: Proper training for healthcare providers and staff on how to handle patient transfers is essential. With the appropriate training, they can acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for effective and safe transfers.
  6. Communicate: Holding regular conversations between providers and managers will help identify potential risks associated with manual handling. This, in turn, will reduce the number of incidents and injuries.
  7. Follow Safety Standards: Organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have set safety standards to help ensure best practices are always used in healthcare settings.  

OSHA Guidelines for Lifting Patients 

OSHA has developed specific guidelines regarding manual handling activities related to lifting or moving patients in order to develop standard safety practices across healthcare settings. These guidelines include recommendations on how to best position oneself, how much weight can be lifted safely without assistance, how to maintain control at all times when moving or transferring a patient, and more.  

Promoting a Culture of Safety

Overall, safe patient handling is a critical component of healthcare. With proper knowledge and training, healthcare providers can effectively prevent injury risks associated with manual transfers. It is crucial for hospitals to have clear policies, as it will protect both their employees and the patients they serve. Ultimately, prioritizing safe patient handling ensures quality care delivery and promotes a culture of safety within healthcare organizations. 

Want more information? Visit AliMed’s Safe Patient Handling Resource Hub to explore a multitude of educational resources, including a new guidebook, printable staff training posters, podcasts, infographics, videos, and more.



AliMed, Inc. is a manufacturer and distributor of medical supply products, and is not a medical authority. The contents contained in this article, including text, graphics, imagery, and other materials, are for informational and educational purposes only. AliMed does not provide or intend to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and the information contained here should not be treated as such. If you have questions about a specific medical condition or specific personal use of a medical device, always consult your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

This blog was created with the assistance of artificial intelligence. Although every effort has been made to present information that is accurate and true to the best of our knowledge, this content may contain omissions or errors. AliMed does not regularly update information or resources for this content and does not guarantee, make any warranties, and accepts no liability for the accuracy or completeness of the information presented.