Establishing a Safe Patient Handling Mindset

January 11, 2023

Download a printable poster here. 

Nurses lift about 1.8 tons in an eight-hour shift, which on average is more than most other occupations. Healthcare workers are also inclined to have more back-related injuries that can be directly correlated to manual patient handling. This makes nursing one of the most injury-plagued workforces, especially as patients get heavier and staffing shortages are at a critical state. Often without enough help to transfer or move patients and sometimes not even time to find a transfer device, it’s no wonder that approximately 20% of nurses leave their patient care positions, citing job-related safety risks as the reason.

These statistics alone show how important it is for healthcare organizations to establish a culture of safety and routine. Employing safe practices by initiating the three “A’s” of Safe Patient Handling – Assess, Acquire, and Access – can make all the difference. AliMed’s downloadable training poster provides a visual reminder for staff to follow these key principles of safe patient handling. 

Have You Assessed Your Patient Handling Tools Lately?

Assess – To get started you must first determine what your facility already has in place to aid in safe patient handling. This includes assessing current transfer devices, staffing levels, and patient population mobility levels. Each of these plays an important role in identifying the deficiencies a facility or department may have. The AliTalks Podcast on Safe Patient Handling with Marcy Grace Hensell, RN, MSN, CNOR discusses more about how to assess your needs and highlights the AORN (Association of periOperative Registered Nurses) Safe Patient Handling and Movement eGuideline, which looks at all the potential ways a patient or nurse can be injured and even recommends bringing in an assessment team to make objective recommendations. Whether it's done in-house or through an outside team, assessing current protocols builds a good foundation for proper safe patient handling practices.

Have the Right Patient Handling Tools for the Job

Acquire – Once you understand your facility’s needs, you can work to acquire the right products to help do the job. But having the right devices in your facility is only the first step. You must then understand which products to use depending on the scenario. A study analyzing safe pushing and pulling limits states it is safe to push 20% and pull 30% of your body weight. Weight differs in each patient, which will vary the amount of pull or push force required for each transfer. Acquiring devices to aid with a range of scenarios can help reduce the risk of injury. It is important to note, however, not all transfer aids are created equal (device mechanics also differ) and what is needed will vary depending on specific point-of-care needs and staff availability.

AliMed’s A Guide to Safe Patient Handling breaks down the various types of lateral transfer devices and mobility aids available with extensive details on their associated injury risk level, how they work, which departments they are most often used in, staff required, and specific patient characteristics to consider such as weight, tolerability, or mobility level.

Lateral Transfer Devices for surface-to-surface transfers

Air-Assisted Lateral Transfer Systems such as the PPS Glide require less overall pull force and two staff to assist, maximizing staff efficiency while mitigating injury risk. Air-assisted technology reduces friction and creates a cushion of air to help safely lift and glide patients. These are best for patients who have limited mobility, are unable to tolerate rigid devices, or are larger and require maximum support.  

Soft Rollboards feature conveyor-belt mechanics that reduce friction between the board and the surface, requiring less force for smoother lateral transfers. The fabric cover rotates around the frame while simultaneously moving both the patient and draw sheet. Rollboards require two to three staff to assist and are best for immobile patients or those with limited mobility. 

Patient Shifters safely bridge any small or uneven gaps between surfaces. With use of a draw sheet, the slippery anti-static coating allows a minimum of two to three staff to slide the patient across the board without static buildup. Patient shifters are also more tolerable for geriatric patients or those with fragile or sensitive skin.

Limited and Assisted Mobility Aids for out-of-bed transfers

Patient Lifts aid with lifting and transferring patients and can accommodate varying levels of patient mobility depending on the type of lift. Full-body sling options are ideal for patients who are immobile or have significant weakness or impairment. Sit-to-stand models are best for those who can sit up and demonstrate some weight-bearing capacity but may not be able to stand. Both types are available in electronic or manual options. Electronic lifts require minimal staff effort and greatly reduce body strain. 

Gait Belts aid with sit-to-stand transfers or guided ambulation with patients who have partial-to-full mobility or weight-bearing capacity and require one or two staff to assist depending on the patient’s mobility level. Belts with smoother material are easier for staff to grip and more comfortable for patients who are unable to tolerate stiffer fabrics.  

Transfer Aids such as boards for assisted seated transfers from wheelchair to bed/toilet or in-bed repositioning aids for boosting, turning, and proning are ideal for a range of circumstances with varying patient types, helping round out your safe patient handling inventory. 

When in doubt, manual patient lifting should never be an option. Always use some type of transfer tool to move a patient – as something is better than nothing. 

Promote Accessibility and Compliance with Proper Storage

Access – Storage solutions provide more direct access to transfer devices to ensure they are always within reach, making it easier for staff to comply with safe patient handling practices. In turn, this helps reduce their injury risk and allows nurses and caregivers to provide proper, safer care for their patients. Many options are wall or door mountable, which also helps keep devices off the floor for more space. 

Enhancing Safety of Staff and Patients

Establishing a culture of safety is only the beginning. To ensure safe patient handing protocols are followed, it is important to continue to maintain and promote the 3 “A’s”: Assess, Acquire, and Access. This will enhance the safety of both staff and patients over time. To help, AliMed has developed a Safe Patient Handling Resource Hub, featuring a multitude of educational resources including a new guidebook, printable training posters, podcasts, infographics, and more. These will help you find the right devices, understand the solutions needed to help avoid injuries, and accommodate safer transfers through routines that offer long-term benefits to your patients, staff, and facility.


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.