What Are Safe Patient Handling Supplies?

Safe patient handling is critical to avoid injury while repositioning a patient in order to avoid pressure ulcers.. Photo (c) Public Domain

Safe patient handling supplies are medical supplies and equipment designed to either:

  • move a patient from one surface to another, in a safe manner for both the patient and the staff who supports the patient's weight while moving her
  • extricate a person from a confined space, one that typically would not allow two people to perform a safe, ergonomic lift, and therefore need a tool to compensate for the lack of ergonomics for the handlers and lack of safety for the person being extricated.

    Let's look at some examples to see what some of the real-world possibilities are, buried in that definition. 

    Patient Handling

    While in the hospital, some patients need to be moved to heal better, or to have tests taken elsewhere in the hospital, or to travel to and from surgery.

    In many cases, the patient is not physically capable of moving himself. A couple of reasons why a patient would need to move for healing would be either rotating in the bed or to move from the bed to a chair to sit upright.

    Pressure Ulcer Risk Reduction

    Rotating in the hospital bed is an important way to help prevent pressure ulcers from forming on the patient's skin. When a patient lies in the same position for too long, the pressure of their body weight, combined with the friction and heat in the bed, can deteriorate skin that covers a joint or bone. The pressure, caused by the weight and friction on that touch point, where skin covers bone and rubs against the bed, is where the skin weakens and can become a terrible sore that could extend the patient's stay in the hospital in order to treat that wound.

    If moisture builds up, from either sweat or incontinence, the risk gets much higher.

    Therefore, patient rotation in the bed is essential. There are special weight-distribution mattresses that are filled with air and controlled by the nurse with a control pad to make sure pressure is relieved and redistributed throughout the patient's body.

    This process is typically for patients at high risk for a bed sore.

    Another way to rotate patients is with the use of bed linens, ceiling lifts and slings, and foam pads and wedges. Most hospital policies no longer allow a staff member to move or rotate a patient alone. Two or more people are needed to reduce risk of injury to the staff.


    In some cases, getting a patient out of bed to either take some rehabilitative walks or to at least sit upright in a chair, are helpful to speed the patient's healing progress. In these cases, the patient will normally still be assisted from the bed, and into a nearby chair. The idea is the same for a patient that needs to be transferred out of the hospital room by wheelchair to another part of the hospital for testing, for example.

    In this case, there are slings that the staff members wrap around their bodies and around the patient's body to create a safer, ergonomic lift. The goals are to keep the patient safe, and to protect the staff from back, shoulder, or neck injuries, to name a few.


    The sling and wrapping process creates leverage points, and weight distribution for the staff to leverage so that they can lift and transfer the patient with less effort.

    There are also transfer supplies for moving a patient from a stretcher to a bed and vice versa. These patients aren't going for a walk or to sit in a chair, and must be moved while lying down. This poses a tough ergonomic and safety challenge to the staff.

    The staff in this case will use either a ceiling lift and sling process to lift and place the patient from the bed to the stretcher, or, they may use a lateral transfer mat. Lateral transfer mats essentially build a safe bridge for the staff to slide a patient delicately from one bed surface to another.

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