Safe Lifting Programs at Long-Term Care Facilities and Their Impact on Workers Compensation Costs
The aging US population contributes in a variety of ways to workers compensation costs. For one, the workers compensation costs associated with an older workforce differ in structure and magnitude from those of a younger workforce—NCCI has analyzed these cost implications in earlier studies. An aging population also increases employment in industries and occupations that provide services to the elderly. A prominent example is the growth in long-term care facilities.
Previous research by NCCI has indicated that long-term care facilities have injury rates that are materially greater than average, and that back injuries are a major contributor to workers compensation claims. To a large degree, these injuries are incurred by workers while lifting and moving patients. This exposure is likely to increase as this industry expands. Additional NCCI research has identified the increased use of productivity-enhancing processes as a major source of improved workplace safety. The use of powered mechanical lifts in long-term care facilities supports these earlier studies regarding the importance of process innovation on workplace injuries.
This study is a collaborative effort with researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The objective of this research was to assess the implications for workers compensation costs of safe lifting programs in long-term care facilities. The original intent was to compare facilities with and without safe lift programs, but the survey results indicate that by the end of the survey period, close to 95% of facilities had powered mechanical lifts and close to 80% routinely used them. Therefore, the focus shifted from whether or not facilities had safe lift programs to the implementation of the program.
After controlling for ownership structure and differences in workers compensation systems across states, the statistical analysis performed as part of this study shows that an increased emphasis on safe lift programs at long-term care facilities is associated with fewer workplace injuries and lower workers compensation costs. More precisely, higher values of the safe lift index are associated with lower values for both frequency and total costs. The safe lift index captures information on the policies, training, preferences, and barriers surrounding the use of powered mechanical lifts. The institution's commitment to effectively implementing a safe lift program appears to be the key to success.