Nurses and nursing aids are the professionals in the United States who have the greatest chance of developing a back and an arm injury. The majority of these injuries are from overexertion and occur when moving patients. Nurses are taught proper body mechanics, including to keep the back straight and to lift from the knees. Unfortunately, multiple studies have shown that even when proper protocol is followed and nurses lift correctly, lifting heavy patients can still cause severe back and arm injuries. These injuries result in workers' compensation claims, missed work, and significant pain for nursing professionals.
NPR reports the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced its first-ever crackdown on hospitals not doing enough to prevent nursing injuries. Notices have been sent to 10 regional offices providing information on guidelines inspectors should be following when investigating hospitals. OSHA has also indicated it will be more aggressive in fining hospitals if the facilities fail to comply with best practices for safety. Average fines are expected to be approximately $7,000 but could raise to $70,000 when evidence suggests the facility has intentionally ignored ergonomic risks faced by nurses and by nursing aids.
While healthcare safety advocates indicate OSHA should receive credit for the agency's new efforts, there are also significant concerns about whether OSHA is going to be able to do enough. With understaffing and budget costs, OSHA would need 100 years to inspect every business in the United States under its jurisdiction even one time. There are more than 4,000 hospitals where nurses may be potentially at risk of workplace injuries and OSHA is likely to inspect not 100's of these hospitals, but instead just dozens. Hospitals may not have strong incentives to make changes to protect nurses because of the low likelihood of an OSHA inspection. Still, facilities should protect their human resources and take steps to reduce the chances of workers' compensation claims by following guidelines for safety.
Nurses Face Back and Arm Injury Risks
Studies suggest the only way to significantly reduce the chance of serious back and neck injury for nurses who lift patients is to use mechanical lifts such as ceiling lifts. OSHA inspectors are encouraged to determine if a hospital has a sufficient supply of mechanical lift equipment available and to determine if the equipment is being properly maintained. Nurses and nursing aids should be trained in the effective and safe use of mechanical lifting equipment for moving patients.
OSHA inspectors should also be aware of other high risks nurses face, including danger of patient assault and workplace violence; and risks of slip and falls and tuberculosis infection.
While OSHA inspectors will be visiting some hospitals and instituting fines, the majority of hospitals are unlikely to be visited by an inspector. These facilities should still make the decision to comply with OSHA guidelines for workplace safety, and especially guidelines for the prevention of ergonomic injuries. Hospitals should be motivated not just by the desire to avoid a possible citation but by the goal of protecting valuable staff members and of reducing the risk of workplace injury claims.