A Modern Epidemic

Across the UK obesity rates have almost quadrupled in the last 25 years. According to a study by the National Audit Office, 22% of adult Britons are obese and three-quarters are overweight. Body mass index is a measure of body fat based on height and weight and applies to both men and women - an individual is classed as obese if they have a body mass index of over 30, and overweight if they are between 25 - 29.9.

Obesity has been described as our ‘modern epidemic’. It is generally caused by two simple factors – an unhealthy diet (typically too rich in fat and sugars) and lack of exercise. Occasionally there are other factors such as Prader-Willi syndrome, hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease.

Care industry employees are very aware of the potential health problems associated with obesity; including an increased risk of arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. However, how many staff working in the care and social care environments have considered the potential harm to themselves if they are involved in delivering physical care to obese and overweight clients?

According to the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) ‘Manual Handling operations Regulations 1992 (as amended)’ when, as part of a work activity, a person is undertaking a hazardous manual handling operation that cannot be avoided a ‘suitable and sufficient’ assessment of the risk should be conducted. Therefore, a risk assessment should be undertaken when care staff are giving assistance with the moving and handling of a client. Risk assessment is ranked according to the nature and extent of an injury or ill-health should a work activity go wrong, and the likelihood that the injury/ill-health will be realised.

When undertaking a manual handling risk assessment, factors that should be considered, amongst others, are the client’s mobility and weight. By the very nature of risk assessments, if the client is obese or over-weight and has reduced mobility; the risk to the handler(s), and indeed the client when undertaking a moving and handling activity, is increased.

There are several manual handling equipment suppliers and manufacturers who have a range of products including beds, chairs, wheelchairs, patient hoists and slings suitable for the obese client. Care industry managers should know about these products, and where and how to access them quickly in the event of an emergency admission. Manual handling policies should include information on managing the risks associated with this issue. Staff should be given additional training of a range of suitable techniques to be utilised and appropriate supervision to ensure their competence.

If obesity rates continue to increase at the same rate as we have seen over the past 25 years, our exposure to this hazard significantly increases– as does the likelihood that things will go wrong. It is clear that the care and social care industries need to be prepared to manage the risks inherent in the moving and handling of an increasing number of obese and over-weight clients; and that the preparation required should begin now.


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