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Improve stretcher safety with policy, training

The handling and movement of patients poses an inherent risk to both patient and provider due to potential mechanical failures or unsafe practices by the operator


This is the fifth of 10 articles in the 2017 EMSFORWARD campaign. Read the article announcing the series or visit EMSFORWARD.org to access the full report and additional patient safety resources.

"In other words, simply using those shoulder restraints can save our patients’ lives and prevent devastating injuries."

— A National Perspective on Ambulance Crashes and Safety Guidance from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on ambulance safety for patients and providers. Noah Smith, MPH, EMT

Scenario: An EMS crew has arrived at the hospital and is preparing to unload a patient from an ambulance. The driver is at the back of the ambulance and is eagerly disengaging the wall locking device that holds the stretcher in place. The attendant is busy unhooking the monitor and oxygen and packaging the patient to be moved out of the ambulance.

 Are expectations about the use of safety equipment frequently reinforced? (Courtesy photo)
Are expectations about the use of safety equipment frequently reinforced? (Courtesy photo)

The driver starts to pull the stretcher out of the ambulance while the attendant remains at the head of the patient. As the stretcher is pulled, the safety hook on the floor of the ambulance fails to engage. The driver continues to pull the stretcher out not realizing the hook is not engaged. The stretcher then free falls out of the back of the ambulance.

Ask yourself: Has your organization implemented a policy of utilization of all five straps when transporting and moving a patient? Are expectations about the use of safety equipment frequently reinforced?   

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