Safe Bariatric Patient Handling: A Growing Concern

Obesity is shaping up to be the major healthcare problem of this century in Australia. Since 1980, the incidence of obesity in our population has doubled, and it’s a trend that’s predicted to only get worse.

With an estimated 2.6 million Australians currently classified as obese, healthcare facilities are under more pressure to provide proper care for larger and heavier patients than ever before.

Obese patients face a range of significant health issues that lead to increasing demand for healthcare services. In particular, those who have a BMI greater than 40, or are overweight by more than 45-140kg (classified as bariatric), require specialised equipment that facilitates their safe transportation and treatment.

A multi-faceted challenge for healthcare facilities

Patients with bariatric needs present new challenges when it comes to moving them around safely. Many bariatric patients have reduced mobility, and combined with illness or injury, may not be able to move at all by themselves.

For healthcare workers, this presents an increased occupational health and safety risk. Healthcare professionals have one of the highest rates of occupational injury in Australia.

In particular, musculoskeletal disorders cause a significant proportion of work-related OHS injuries in hospital and aged care staff.

In an already highly at-risk occupational category, it puts additional pressure on facilities to ensure workers have the equipment and training required to safely handle bariatric patients.

Activities associated with manual lifting, such as transferring and repositioning patients, transferring from bed to chair, from side to side in bed, repositioning in beds and chairs, or making a bed with a patient in it all involve a degree of manual handling.

It’s important for both patients and caregivers that this is carried out in a safe manner while maintaining the patient’s dignity and minimising discomfort.

Bariatric patients deserve to be provided with the same respectful, high standard of care as any other patient. Likewise, healthcare workers deserve to work in environments where their risk of body stress injuries is minimal.

So how can hospitals and aged care facilities properly care for bariatric patients?

Risk management for bariatric care

Facilities need to have a plan for patients that present with bariatric needs, and the right equipment on hand to treat patients in a timely manner. Especially as bariatric patients may have had their treatment delayed due to limited ambulance transport options, or a reluctance to seek medical assistance due to embarrassment or perceived discrimination.

Bariatric OHS plans should include:

  • Suitable equipment for bariatric patients such as reinforced chairs, beds and wheelchairs, as well as hoisting mechanisms and pressure care solutions.
  • Systems to manage emergency admissions and evacuations safely and quickly.
  • OHS training programs to equip staff with the knowledge to safely move abnormally large and heavy patients.
  • Facility design that allows for larger equipment to be safely transported and stored eg: in waiting areas, rooms or wards, and hallways.
  • Eliminating the need to manually lift, push and pull as far as practically possible.
  • Staff training in how to safely use bariatric equipment.
  • Development of bariatric specific admission, discharge and care protocols. Ensuring all necessary ergonomic assistive devices are consistently used.

Removing the strain for OHS safety

There is a wide range of bariatric specific equipment available, and new innovations in this field are happening every year.

At Keystone Healthcare, we maintain direct relationships with leading bariatric care equipment providers to ensure our hospital and aged care clients are equipped with the best possible solutions for their facilities.

At a minimum, facilities need to have access to:

  • Beds with safe working load and width (SWL approximately 500kg) plus appropriately rated pressure reduction mattress and bed extensions if applicable.
  • Hoist with weight capacity of 300kg approx (check the capacity of accompanying slings).
  • Walking aids rated to approximately 300kg; including Forearm Support Frame, Rollator Frame, Pick Up Frame, Crutches and walking sticks.
  • Air assisted transfer devices (SWL 500kg)
  • Bariatric scales – these can be attached to a large capacity hoist or bed (at least SWL 400kg)
  • Extra-large mobile commodes that can be converted to a shower chair, wheelchair or bedside chair (SWL at least 400kg)
  • Greater size and weight capacity furniture e.g. patient and visitor chairs, care chairs
  • Heavy duty self-help bars and bed ladders
  • Bed movers and inbuilt bed transportation systems
  • Therapy areas that may be used e.g. treadmills, exercise bikes.

Where to get more information

At Keystone Healthcare, we believe that all patients deserve the same level of safety, which is why we are committed to raising the standard and delivering better bariatric care.

To discuss solutions for mitigating body stress risk in your facility, contact us at Keystone on 1300 547 877.