Caring for bariatric patients

Caring for bariatric patients requires more staff and puts them at risk of injury. These challenges can be overcome by providing caregivers with the correct bariatric equipment.

INTERVIEW WITH TRACEY: Tips for nurses caring for bariatric patients


Obesity has been called the most prevalent, chronic, relapsing, and ultimately fatal disease of the modern world. 

FACT: 13% of the world’s adult population is obese1 and the repercussions of managing this pandemic are substantial and intensifying.2


The complex and challenging needs of the bariatric patient are well documented, but let’s consider for one moment how this might impact the caregiver. Can they provide effective bariatric care as well as protect themselves from injury?

In Australia our health and aged care workers are at a high risk of injury from performing manual handling tasks such as transferring or moving patients.

Nurses and caregivers in both hospitals and residential care facilities suffer one of the highest levels of work-related back injuries compared to any other profession, accounting for over 70% of all injuries in the nursing profession.3

Statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics also shows that of 563,600 people who suffered a work related injury in 2017-18:4

  • 24% sustained their injury through lifting, pushing, pulling, or bending;
  • 18% through hitting or being hit by an object;
  • 13% through a fall.

FACT: Nurses and caregivers often put the wellbeing of their patients ahead of their own!


But that does not have to be the case.

What can be done to help?

  • Staff generally find ceiling lifts to be the least demanding method of patient handling, and it is the quickest transfer method.5 Patients also tend to prefer ceiling lifts to either floor lifts or manual handling.5
  • A purpose-designed bariatric hospital bed can aid with patient repositioning.
  • When protective equipment is available and easy to use, it is used! Reduce your exposure to physical load6 by selecting a lift sheet that is designed to replace the bed sheet and remain in situ. These are available with high safe working loads making them suitable for bariatric patients. 
  • Risk doesn’t stop at the bedside. Consider bariatric bathing and toileting facilities: can they accommodate the larger patient and reduce the physical effort required by staff?

It has been almost 25-years since Garg & Owen7 reached the following conclusion and their finding is still true today:

“An appropriate ergonomic intervention programme [equipment for patient care, toileting and bathing] offers great promise in reducing physical stress and risk of low-back pain to nursing personnel.”


If you need to build or adapt your healthcare facility to cater for these demographic changes please visit the Arjo Guide for Architects and Planners portal.

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1World Health Organisation Fact Sheet 311 (2015):

2Beitz JM. Providing Quality Skin and Wound Care for the Bariatric Patient: An Overview of Clinical. Ostomy Wound Manage. 2014; 60(1): 12–21

3Manual Handling Injuries in Health Care Workers, Nerida Bewick, Dianne Garner

4Australian Bureau of Statistics

5Alamgir 2009, Dutta 2012

6Knibbe HJJ, Knibbe NE. Evaluation of a novel bed sheet used to reposition and transfer patients in an intensive care unit. British J Nurs. 2015; 24: 19-23

7Garg A, Owen B. Reducing back stress to nursing personnel: an ergonomic intervention in a nursing home. Ergonomics. 1992; 35(11): 1353-1375