Our hospital is looking to buy more patient handling equipment. Is there a difference between manual and mechanical equipment in terms of preventing back problems for health care workers?

Researchers followed two groups of nurses and nurses' aides who used patient handling equipment. One group mostly used manual equipment, such as transfer belts and sliding devices. The other group used mechanical lifting devices in addition to manual equipment.

After a year, nurses and aides in both groups had less back and shoulder pain. They also had less physical discomfort and fatigue. However, the group that used mechanical devices improved the most in these areas.

There were no differences between groups in the overall number of injuries. But the main kind of injury changed depending on the equipment used. Nurses and aides who used mechanical equipment had fewer back injuries. They were more likely to injure their arms or necks. Meanwhile, 75 percent of injuries among those who didn't use the equipment were back injuries.

The authors feel that patient handling equipment makes hospitals healthier places to work. Any kind of patient handling equipment is better than none at all. But mechanical equipment takes a bigger load off health care workers. This kind of equipment may go farther in preventing back injuries among nurses and their aides.