Patient Lifts and Worker Risks

If you have ever tried to move or lift someone on your own, unassisted, you can
appreciate the challenges faced by caregivers and healthcare workers for whom
patient handling is a part of their daily job. While mechanical lifts make it
much easier to move and lift patients and can help reduce the ergonomic risks
associated with manual patient handling, they also introduce other workplace
hazards. Nova Scotia recently released a hazard alert to help reduce injuries
to attendants who work with patient lifts (also known as hoists).

There are many types of lifts including:

  • wheeled hoist/portable floor lift,

  • stationary hoist/fixed lift,

  • ceiling track complete with motor,

  • sit/stand lifting aid, and

  • bath lifts.

Hospitals, long term care facilities and private homes use mechanical lifting
systems to move or reposition patients/clients with mobility issues. Client
lifting poses an injury risk to the attendant, however because the task cannot
be eliminated, engineering solutions were created in the form of mechanical

Mechanical lifting systems have been the source of injury, and even deaths, to
clients and attendants, mainly related to the malfunction, failure, or misuse
of patient lifts. This hazard alert focuses on the hazards to attendants

New hazards related to patient lifts include falling suspended parts, dropped
loads, equipment failure, structural failure, and electric shocks. There is
also the risk of body strain if a hoist should fail and an attendant tries to
catch a falling client.


The following tips from Nova Scotia and best practices from the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration offer practical guidance to help prevent injuries to
attendants using patient lifts.


Find out about, and meet, the legal requirements in your own jurisdiction for
the use of patient/resident/client lifts in workplaces. Some general
requirements may include: providing adequate lifting equipment; proper training
of employees who use this equipment; proper installing, testing, operating, use
of, servicing, maintenance and repair of any lifting machine in accordance with
the manufacturer's or an engineer's specifications.

Sling safety

Slings are a key part of the lifting system. It is important to use the correct
sling - the one approved for use by the patient lift manufacturer - for the
specific hoist. The safe working load (SWL) must be clearly marked on both the
lift and the sling. Take care to ensure the sling is compatible with the load
limits of the lift and the patient's weight. Perform sling care according to
the manufacturer's specifications. Inspect the sling fabric and straps to make
sure they are not frayed or stressed at the seams or otherwise damaged, and if
there are signs of wear, do not use it.

Equipment inspections

The manufacturer's specifications will likely provide a frequency for periodic
inspections and pre-use inspections. The periodic inspection requires
documentation to demonstrate it has been completed. Pre-use inspections ensure
that compatible parts are used and properly configured, and that load
restrictions are not exceeded. They also identify any visible signs of damage
to equipment that may lead to a failure. Create a system to ensure that
defective equipment is clearly marked and taken out of service until replaced
or repaired.

Tips for users of patient lifts

  • Be trained on, and understand, how to operate the lift.

  • Fasten all clips, latches, and hanger bars securely during operation.

  • Keep the base (legs) of the patient lift in the maximum open position and position the lift to provide stability.

  • Ensure the patient's arms are inside the sling straps.

  • Lock the wheels on any device that will receive the patient such as a wheelchair, stretcher, bed, or chair.

  • Ensure that the weight limitations for the lift and sling are not exceeded.

  • Follow the instructions for washing and maintaining the sling.

  • Follow a maintenance safety inspection checklist to detect worn or damaged parts that need immediate replacement.

Regardless of size, all workplaces can benefit from a code-of-practice, or safe
work procedure for hoist operation, inspection and maintenance.

Further Information - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety