August 17, 2023

STAIRway to safe manual handling

The nature of the work performed in a hospital environment often involves transferring patients, with an increased risk of staff sustaining an injury due to hazardous manual handling.

Hazardous manual handling is often the cause of workplace injuries known as Musculoskeletal Disorders. Manual handling accounts for almost half of all workplace injuries at Northern Health The impact of a workplace injury on a staff member cannot be underestimated and it impacts all areas of life.

In 2021, an external review of patient manual handling was commissioned at Northern Health. The findings of this report have been incorporated into the updated Manual Handling/No Lift program.

Contemporary approaches to manual handling incorporate risk-based thinking. This involves staff incorporating a dynamic risk assessment approach to patient handling. This includes taking into account the situation at time of transfer, and assessment of the manual handling risks prior to commencing all patient transfers, to determine the safest way to perform the patient transfer.

At the core of the updated Patient Manual Handling /No Lift training and assessment program, staff are encouraged to ‘Stop, Think, Assess, Implement, Review’ (STAIR).


Training and assessments have been updated to incorporate and encourage risk-based thinking using the STAIR approach. Major updates to the Manual Handling/No Lift include:

  • eLearning modules updated to include all components of STAIR
  • annual training and assessment of staff updated to include competencies to assess STAIR
  • scenario based training utilising relevant local scenarios
  • scenario library where trainers can select scenarios for training and assessment purposes
  • the ability to determine and incorporate area specific manual handling procedures and tasks specific to the area being assessed
  • introduction of lead trainers
  • new Manual Handling/No Lift -TRAINER module.

The OH&S department has introduced a mechanism whereby manual handling training and assessment can be tailored to an areas manual handling needs. This has now led to areas such as the Community Programs, PSA’s, Speech Pathology, Dietetics and Nutrition now being able to participate in manual handling training and assessment of staff in a formalised manner.

Vicki Petrou, OH&S Consultant, recently held 10 Manual Handling/No Lift education sessions for lead trainers as part of the updated program rollout.

“We are grateful to the lead trainers and trainers for taking on these very important roles. We currently have 271 trainers and lead trainers across Northern Health,” she said.

The final piece of the rollout involved the release of the updated Patient Handling/No Lift -Practical Competency Assessment for staff on 1 August 2023. OH&S are currently in the process of collecting competencies for all areas.

“I am happy to provide ongoing in-service training locally for staff to explore risk-based thinking, STAIR, and work through scenarios. To date, I have been extremely impressed with how staff at Northern Health have embraced these in-services. I look forward to providing many more of these,” Vicki said.

“We are also grateful to Nurse Unit Managers and Managers for their invaluable support, guidance and input. I am grateful to the OH&S Team for their continued support and to the Director OH&S for his infectious passion for manual handling and the many whiteboard sessions.”

Featured image: Vicki Petrou, OH&S Consultant.