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Gait Belts – Appropriate for Safe Patient Handling?

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Safety Meeting Topic

Gait Belts – Appropriate for Safe Patient Handling?

A low-cost tool that has been used to assist with manual patient handling for many years is the gait belt, also referred to as a transfer or walking belt. This belt is used to provide a more secure means to assist mobile patients. Gait belts are strips of fabric or vinyl, about two inches wide, with an adjustable buckle. Some come with handles to improve grasp.

Gait belts can be used when transferring patients who are partially ambulatory, have some weight-bearing capacity, and are cooperative. They can also be used in conjunction with a transfer board when sliding a patient from one level surface to another, for example from:

  • Bed to wheelchair.
  • Wheelchair to chair, car seat, or toilet.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in partnership with the Veterans Health Administration and the American Nurses Association, has established that gait belts are appropriate equipment for safe patient handling and mobility programs, but only with patients who can bear some of their own weight.

Gait belts should not be used:

  • To lift a patient.
  • On patients who are at a high risk for falls.
  • On patients with wide girths, as the belt can ride up and is hard to securely fasten.
  • With patients who are combative, unpredictable, or have cognitive deficits.
  • For patients with the following conditions:
    • Colostomy/ileostomy surgery.
    • Severe cardiac condition.
    • Severe respiratory problem.
    • Recent abdominal, chest, or back surgery.
    • Abdominal aneurysm.
    • Phobia regarding belts.

If the patient falls while being assisted with a gait belt, the person assisting must not try to catch them, but rather slow the fall by supporting the patient’s weight on their forward leg and concentrate on protecting the patient’s head. After a fall, always assess the patient for injury prior to movement. If they can regain a standing position with minimal assistance, the gait belt with handles can be used to aid them, but not to lift them up. When doing so, ensure the employee’s back is kept straight, legs are bent, and the body is kept as close to the patient as possible. If the patient cannot stand with minimal assistance, use a powered portable or ceiling-mounted lift device.

Belts with padded handles are easier to grip and increase security and control. Ensure the belt is securely fastened and cannot be easily undone by the patient during transfer, and that a layer of clothing is between the patient’s skin and the belt to avoid abrasion. In addition to having assistive devices, it is important that a comprehensive safe patient handling and mobility program, in conjunction with effective initial and periodic training, is in place.

By using gait belts you can reduce injuries not only helping care givers, but also improving patient care. 

References:
Is there a Role for Gait Belts in Safe Patient Handling and Movements Programs?American Journal of Safe Patient Handling & Movement. March 2011
OSHA Safe Patient Handling

Bonnie Sander, Safety and Health Services Consultant

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Safety News is produced by State Compensation Insurance Fund to assist clients in their loss prevention efforts. Information or recommendations contained in this publication were obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the date of publication. Information is only advisory and does not presume to be exhaustive or inclusive of all workplace hazards or situations. Permission to reprint articles subject to approval by State Compensation Insurance Fund.

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