Ergonomics/Human Factors Approach to Safe Handling 

July 24, 2017 | News

by Gina Vahlas

According to the International Ergonomics Association, ergonomics, or human factors, is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.[1]

The elements of a workplace system include facilities, management systems and the people (see Figure 1). In residential care, facilities may include overhead lifts, the design of the care home, beds, and wheelchairs. Management systems may include point of care risk assessments, care plans, hours of work, policies and procedures. People are the characteristics of people involved in the work, including caregivers, residents, families and visitors.

Figure 1: Elements and interactions of a workplace system

When the interaction of the elements is optimized for performance and human well-being, the quality of resident/client care improves, along with an improvement in safety for caregivers[2]. Other safety goals should also be considered as part of the system of care, including pressure wound and fall prevention, infection control and violence prevention.

The Provincial Safe Resident Handling Standards for Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention in British Columbia, outline an ergonomics/human factors approach to safe handling. These standards were developed by the Provincial Residential Care Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention Team with input from stakeholders and organizations, including unions, frontline workers, clinical nurse leads, and many more. They also contain gap analysis tools that an organization can use to assess their current processes, systems and practices. The standards are comprised of the following topics:

Organizational support and ongoing commitment to safety

  • The organization has a policy that requires staff to use safety equipment or assistive devices, whenever more than minimal assistance would be needed to manually lift some or all of a resident’s weight to reduce the risk of injury and ensure quality care.
  • Managers at all levels of the organization demonstrate that employee safety is valued, and integrate safety into all activities and decisions related to operations, capital, and care delivery design.

Facility, equipment, physical environment

  • Appropriate facility design, equipment and physical environment is important to ensure the safety and well-being of residents and caregivers.
  • Where residents need assistance with mobility, overhead lifts (ceiling-mounted, wall mounted or portable lifts) are recommended, specifically x-y gantry (traverse or H) systems, which offer more options and flexibility for transfers, repositioning and rehabilitation tasks.
  • Appropriate slings, storage and maintenance are also important features of the safe handling system.

Education and training

  • All caregivers require education and training with respect to safe handling as well as practice with equipment to feel comfortable using equipment with their residents.
  • Residents and families also require education with respect to the use of equipment to help them appreciate the benefits in quality care and safety for the resident.  Get family members in the lift to give them an opportunity to feel comfortable with the equipment and help their loved one also feel comfortable.

Safe work practice standards

  • Care planning – resident assessment and plan for reassessment
  • Documentation and communication
  • Point of care (POC) risk assessment
  • Regular audits/inspections
  • Education and training- ongoing
  • Safe work procedures are in place
  • Safe handling equipment is readily accessible, in good working order and reflects resident’s function and fit
  • Management strategies support safe handling

Gina is a Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist, a Certified Health and Safety Consultant and works as an Ergonomist in the Risk Analysis Unit at WorkSafeBC.



[2] Pousette, A., Larsman, P., Eklof, M., and Tomer, M. (2017). The relationship between patient safety climate and occupational safety climate in healthcare – A multi-level investigation. Journal of Safety Research, 61, 187-198.