While many jobs present a risk of muscle or joint fatigue and potential injury, few come with as many physical demands as nursing.
About five in every 1,000 nurses miss work due to injury, according to federal government numbers. The biggest culprit? Back injuries, many the result of the profession’s physical demands.
Nurses have to lift patients, transfer them from gurneys to beds and often help them with mobility around the hospital. Because some hospitals are understaffed, nurses often are left on their own to handle patients.
Some nurses injure themselves in one incident, such as moving a patient into a bed. Others begin to experience physical pain and fatigue after a number of years spent lifting patients and, in some cases, medical equipment.
It doesn’t help that people are getting bigger with each passing year, with almost 38 percent of all American adults considered obese.
A Safer Workplace, a Better Workplace
Faced with these safety challenges, many hospitals and other medical facilities have instituted workplace measures to protect nurses from injury.
The quality of patient care is at stake. A recent survey found that workplace safety had a larger impact on the quality of patient care than did other factors, such as nurses’ education and years of experience. In Michigan, one in five nurses say they know of a situation where under-staffing directly led to a patient’s death.
Leadership within each medical organization needs to take steps to ensure safety, which can reduce mistakes and improve patient care. Numerous factors contribute to safety, including establishing smart policies for handling patients, scheduling of meal breaks and managing the duration of shifts.
Elected leaders also are stepping in. A federal Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act is currently stalled in Congress. It would eliminate the manual lifting of patients and also provide standard regulations on safe patient interaction.
However, the bill – proposed by Democrats John Conyers of Michigan and Al Franken of Minnesota – has not moved forward in Congress. One criticism is that the change could place too big of a financial burden on hospitals.
In Michigan, state lawmakers have yet to vote on the Safe Patient Care Act, which was introduced in May. The bill provides regulations for nurse safety in the state. The law would require setting nurse-to-patient ratios, limiting the use of overtime and requiring hospitals to post staffing levels online.
Rep. Jim Hoadley, a sponsor of the measure, said that mandatory overtime is putting nurses in an unsafe position as they work to the point of exhaustion.
Just as at the federal level, some Michigan lawmakers argue that hospitals should manage the issue on their own and not come under mandates from the government.