Statistics gathered and reported by OSHA show that hospitals are still some of the most hazardous places in the country to work. Illness and injury rates in hospitals are higher than in construction and manufacturing—and nearly double the rate for private industry as a whole. In terms of total injuries, nurses were in the top six occupations most likely to sustain an injury on the job. Over half—54 percent—of these injuries were classified as sprains and strains (musculoskeletal disorders.)
According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, there are more than 35,000 musculoskeletal injuries among nurses, nursing assistants, and orderlies every year. These injuries are far more common in hospitals than in ambulatory care. The number one cause of injury? Moving and lifting patients.
Recent trends may be increasing the frequency of injuries that stem from moving patients. Surging obesity rates mean patients are heavier and harder to move. And our healthcare system is sending hospitalized patients home earlier and sicker, meaning nurses have to get them up and moving sooner. Also, like the general population, the nursing workforce is getting older—which increases susceptibility to injury and the risk of cumulative trauma.
Importance of workplace safety for nurses
Why does this matter so much? A failure to keep nurses safe from injury can have direct consequences on patient care. When large numbers of nurses either suffer from or fear a debilitating back injury, they are likely to retire early, which can contribute to a predicted nursing shortage in the years ahead. Those who stay on the job may experience job dissatisfaction and burnout, which research has linked to higher rates of poor outcomes, like hospital-acquired infections.
Some experts say there is no safe way to lift and move a patient manually. The answer, they say, is to follow the lead of the manufacturing industry and use machines and specialized equipment to do the heavy lifting. A few hospitals have adopted motorized hoists to lift patients and have conducted intensive training to make sure nurses know how to use them – but these hospitals remain the exception rather than the rule.
OSHA and other industry forces are calling for hospitals to extend their culture of safety to their workforce, and create programs to keep nurses (as well as other healthcare workers) safe. As organizations devoted to healing, hospitals should view worker safety as part of their professional mission. The good news is, OSHA has created a website full of resources about safe patient handling, including downloadable documents, posters, and checklists.
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