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Nova Scotia tackling MSIs in health care

By Amanda Silliker

A new initiative in Nova Scotia is aiming to reduce musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) in the health-care industry.

Soteria Strains, a project jointly funded by the provincial government and industry partners, will engage health-care workers across the province in the development of programs that will reduce sprains and strains.

“Many workers in this industry suffer not just physical pain, but they are also not able to get up and go to work or play with their kids or do the recreation activities they love, sometimes for very long periods of time,” said Mark Williams, Soteria Strains project lead, who co-presented the initiative at the Safety Services Nova Scotia workplace safety conference earlier this year.

Health and human services is the largest employed sector in N.S. The injury frequency was 3.05 for 2013.

In 2011 almost 80 per cent of all loss-time claims reported to the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) of Nova Scotia by health-care workers were musculoskeletal injuries. This includes workers such as nurses, housekeeping staff, X-ray technicians, nursing home staff, paramedics and continuing care workers.

“Wouldn’t you think that an industry sector that really aims to help people would have a better safety record than that?” said Mike Carter, manager of occupational safety, health and wellness at the Annapolis Valley District Health Authority, which is participating in the project. “It’s quite startling.”

Carter is also the lead of the Soteria Strains working group and co-presented with Williams at the conference.

There are nine district health regions and the IWK Health Centre currently involved in the project, representing a total of 25,000 employees.

The Soteria Strains program is divided into three streams: patient handling, material handling and office ergonomics.

The program will kick off with safe patient handling. About 14,000 employees in the participating organizations are involved directly with lifting, transferring and repositioning patients. More than 50 per cent of the MSIs claimed by health-care workers in 2011 in the province were linked to some sort of patient handling activity.

Safe patient handling is also specifically mentioned in the Nova Scotia government’s Workplace Safety Strategy.

Currently, the Soteria Strains team is completing the program and implementation guides and developing the educational and training materials. Early implementation is expected to begin this fall in acute care facilities throughout the province. Going forward, the program will be implemented in the continuing care and home care sectors. The material handling and office ergonomics programs will be rolled out at a later date.

A long-term goal of the program is to help improve efficiency in the province.

“Reduced overtime, lost time due to illness and an integrated provincial approach to better care may contribute to savings or, at the least, prevent increased costs,” says the Soteria website. “Working safer, using tools for efficiency and keeping our employees healthy at work can prevent reductions to essential programs and services.”


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