Sept - Nov Issue
September 23, 2014

Task force assembles best practices for rollout of Safe Patient Handling Act

Author: By Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
 Valerie Beecher, ergonomics specialist at SUNY Upstate Medical Center and a UUP member, is part of the Zero Lift Task Force that is defining strategies for safe patient handling. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.
Caption: Valerie Beecher, ergonomics specialist at SUNY Upstate Medical Center and a UUP member, is part of the Zero Lift Task Force that is defining strategies for safe patient handling. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

A proactive group of health care professionals is busy preparing a list of concerns and suggested guidelines to present to a state Department of Health workgroup that must be named by Jan. 1, 2015, the deadline set in the new Safe Patient Handling Act.

The New York State Zero Lift Task Force ( is a working team of health care professionals, occupational safety and health specialists, patient advocates and union workers and staff creating model strategies for safe patient handling.

They will present them to the DOH workgroup, which has until July 1, 2015, to submit a report identifying best practices, sample policies and resources to help providers meet the law's requirements. The state health commissioner then has until Jan. 1, 2016, to disseminate the information. By that same date, each health care facility must establish a safe patient handling committee; and by Jan. 1, 2017, each facility must implement a program.

The task force is looking at ways to reduce injuries and costs to employers; change the culture in facilities that rely on manual handling to one of no manual handling; and align elements in a program so training, commitment, worker involvement and monitoring are all in motion.

For example, comprehensive, annual training vs. one-time training, or training on a specific piece of equipment, is most valuable, said Valerie Beecher, task force member and ergonomics specialist at SUNY Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse and a member of United University Professions, a NYSUT higher education affiliate.

Passage of the act in April brought much relief to NYSUT health care members and other unionists across the state who had been advocating for the protection for years. The act was sponsored by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh.

Health care workers have been seriously injured from lifting patients, transferring them from the bed to a chair or gurney, or moving them on beds. Manual lifting and repositioning can cause back, joint or muscle pain, bruises and skin tears.

Beecher said most injuries at Upstate are "due to turning/repositioning and unexpected situations such as falling patients."

The hospital, she said, has multiple pieces of safe patient handling equipment in place, including total assist floor lifts, sit-to-stand lifts and air-assisted transfer/repositioning devices. The equipment has helped reduce injury rates, but the numbers could be stronger if state cutbacks hadn't eliminated the hospital's capital equipment budget.

Facilities can reduce harm from "skyrocketing injuries" and save money from "phenomenal" compensation loss by using safe patient handling equipment, said task force member Maureen Cox, a retired health and safety specialist. "Hard dollars can be saved."

A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-sponsored (NIOSH) study reported that six nursing homes using safe patient handling equipment reduced workers' compensation costs by 61 percent, lost workday injuries by 66 percent, and restricted workdays by 38 percent in three years. Assaults by residents on staff during lifts and transfers were cut in half.


The University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York, set up a safe patient handling training lab in 2010 using equipment from grants obtained by Western New York Occupational Safety and Health.

Andrew Ray, assistant professor of physical therapy and a UUP member, says the lab is used by students in the nursing, physical therapy and occupational therapy programs at UB, as well as by outside health care professionals who come for group training. Nursing students from Erie County BOCES also train there, he said.

"It's a culture change to use the equipment," Ray said. "We thought it best to prepare [students] ahead of time."

Some hospitals and health care facilities already have policies in place where no manual lifting is allowed.

The lab equipment includes a floor lift, ceiling lift and sit-to-stand lift. Programs include training the trainers, and group training.

"This program was supported by a lot of unions," Ray said. "We train anyone who would have contact with patients. We haven't charged yet." Typical groups are 20-30 health care workers, he said.

For more information, contact Ray at