For decades, nurses and other healthcare providers have been at a high risk of suffering injuries while on the job, particularly when manually lifting, transferring, and re-positioning patients. Statistically, nursing is one of the United States’ most dangerous jobs, in terms of the potential for workplace back injuries.
It’s hard to imagine that a profession based on caring for others can result in such a high rate of injury to the caregiver, but here’s how, why, and some potential solutions.
The following stats about nurses, healthcare providers, and patients, regarding injuries and safety, are difficult to believe. Take a look:
- Would you have guessed over 50% of nurses complain of chronic back pain, with up to 80% experiencing some sort of injury in their career? 38% of nurses report having occupational-related back pain severe enough to require leave from work. A study even reported that back pain is so ubiquitous in the profession that many nurses accept musculo-skeletal pain as part of their job.
- According to this study in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, back strains and sprains account for 44% of all injuries to nursing staff and represent 10.5% of back injuries nation-wide. The only job more dangerous to your back is that of a truck driver.
- According to an article on the American Nurse Today website, a 2001 survey of nearly 5,000 nurses reported that 40% said they’d been injured on the job and approximately 60% said they viewed disabling back injuries as one of the biggest health and safety concerns in nursing.
- Additionally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employees in nursing and personal care facilities suffer more than 200,000 patient-handling injuries yearly, and workers’ compensation costs related to such injuries amount to almost $1 billion per year.
- Across all high-injury risk workforces, healthcare accounts for the highest rate of injuries of all injuries reported.
- Patient-handling injuries are the single greatest contributor to the current nursing shortage. These are the result of awkward body positions with repeated movement, in support of limp human weight of the elderly and infirm.
- During a typical 8-hour shift, a nurse lifts a cumulative weight of about 1.8 tons.
- Costs associated with clinician back injuries alone in the healthcare industry are estimated to be $20 billion annually.
- As many as 20% of nurses who leave direct patient care positions do so because of risks associated with the work.
- It is estimated that the total cost of fall injuries for older people was around $20.2 billion per year in the United States in 1994, and is projected to reach $32.4 billion.
- The Hendrich II Fall Risk Model is used to assess a hospitalized patient’s risk of falling. The research behind the model is astounding: falls occurring in hospitals cost over $1 billion annually, or $15,000 – $30,000 per fall. Additionally, serious injuries resulting from falls in nursing homes cost over $4 billion annually.
Making a difference
There are ways to change these negative stats, and provide healthier and safer ways to work. These include:
- Education and training of nurses and healthcare staff geared towards the assessment of hazards in the healthcare work setting, selection and use of the appropriate patient-lifting equipment and devices, and review of research-based practices of safe patient handling.
- The use of assistive patient-handling equipment and devices, which are beneficial not only for healthcare workers, but for patients as well.
- Creating physical environments with furniture which reduce risk of injury to both patients and caregivers. For example, a recliner can make the patient transfer from bed-to-chair easier with the use of arms that flip down. Additionally, adjustable worksurfaces, such as mobile carts, can support technology, engage in patient communication and charting, and prevent straining or awkward bending.
While these statistics and costs are alarming, there are many within the healthcare industry who see the critical need to care for caregivers by finding ways to reduce injuries and create healthier work environments. The potential to decrease the number of injuries and create a safer care environment will come through a combination of training, equipment, and new tools, as well as the willingness to utilize these new methods.