Nurses are the 10th most commonly injured worker category in the nation.
It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s an alarming fact that nurses and CNAs, the people we count on for help and treatment when things go wrong, are among the groups most likely to sustain injuries or face other health problems as a direct result of their work.
Statistics from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show that hospitals are uncommonly dangerous places to work – more so even than the construction and manufacturing industries, where an increased focus on worker safety, new technology, and overall wellness has reduced the overall occurrence of injuries to employees. Oddly enough, nurses are the 10th most commonly injured worker category in the nation, and injury numbers among hospital and senior care employees have remained consistent despite advances in worksite safety. It’s a common problem for healthcare providers, one that is exacerbated by the misconception that nursing is not a physically demanding job.
The hazards of the healthcare environment are numerous. Nurses and CNAs generally spend entire days on their feet, lifting supplies, moving heavy equipment, bending and contorting into unsafe positions in order to treat patients and residents. As a result, musculoskeletal disorders and injuries are extremely prevalent among this group, with overexertion accounting for 48% of injuries followed closely by slips and falls at 25%. Those numbers place a significant burden on healthcare organizations, as well – hospital workers experienced 157.5 cases of injury leading to missed work per 10,000 individuals, a rate that easily outstrips other manual labor industries. Moreover, the financial cost can be crippling – research suggests that it costs anywhere from $27,000 to $103,000 to replace missed labor from injured healthcare workers. In short, it’s in the best interest of everyone involved – workers, managers, and organizations – to implement safety and wellness strategies that tackle the specific dangers of working in a hospital or senior care facility. Here are some of the ways that organizations on the cutting edge of worker safety have sought to mitigate the prevalence of injuries to their nursing staffs.
Training and Education
In any industry, an injury prevention strategy must begin with rigorous training and ongoing education. This is especially important in the patient and resident care industry, where the hazards of the environment present unique dangers to employees. Education is also a critical tool in creating a culture of safety and wellness in the workplace – nurses and other workers are far more likely to buy into an injury prevention program if they feel as though their employer is willing to engage directly with them to demonstrate the importance of these safety programs. Keep health and safety initiatives at the top of employee’s minds and host open discussions about those changes – this will help shape a culture of wellness as much as posters or formal training programs alone.
The risks of healthcare work environments are myriad, so an education program must approach the problem from all angles. Start by addressing the physical health of your employees and understanding the unique risk factors that come with age, experience, gender, and other traits. With that knowledge, you’ll be equipped to help your employees stay healthy with one-on-one or group training activities, including task-specific stretching and coaching for proper body mechanics. After all, overexertion can affect the entire body: the lower back is the most frequent problem area, accounting for over 63% of injuries to healthcare workers, followed by the neck, shoulders, and wrists. These kinds of injuries are overwhelmingly common in the medical industry, but they can be prevented through training in proper posture and technique with on-site correction in real time.
Preventative Strategies and Ergonomic Factors
In addition to educating healthcare workers on proper mechanics, there are several proactive strategies that organizations can implement to help mitigate the inherent risks of the hospital environment. Research has shown that the nature of hospital and senior care workplaces creates a great risk on employees. Most injuries can be directly tied to the demands of the environment, with employees reporting injuries related to constant standing, bending or rotating the trunk, and repetitive movements. In many cases, though, these mechanics are required because of the environment, which itself poses many risks to workers.
Healthcare organizations can begin to alleviate these risks by implementing ergonomic and other programs that tackle the risks of the environment. An ergonomic assessment with an eye toward the specific dangers of care-based environments can provide opportunities for improvement in equipment design and flawed workspaces, where simple adjustments can eliminate or dramatically reduce the risk of injury. This tactic also addresses the behavioral aspect of injury risk and can help healthcare workers understand how flaws in the way they perform their job tasks can lead to injury or chronic pain. However, ergonomic solutions may not be enough.
Changing Patients and Residents, Changing Technology
The nursing environment has changed dramatically and continues to do so, with patients and residents facing different health problems and presenting new challenges for providers of care. Chief among these is the trend of people getting heavier: The Centers for Disease Control reported that the percentage of obese Americans rose from 30.5% to 37.7% over the period from 2000-2014. That’s an increase that impacts health workers at all levels of care, but it’s critically important for those on the front lines, who are responsible for direct treatment, movement, and recovery for the people in their care.
Many hospitals and senior living organizations are adapting to this change and others that affect the healthcare world by utilizing a proactive safety approach that incorporates new technology and better analysis of the workers and their environment. To help reduce the strain placed on healthcare workers, hospitals and senior living facilities are increasingly investing in devices like mechanical slings and lifts to help staff move and transfer patients between beds. Even with these new technologies in place, care centers must be careful to provide ample training to ensure that healthcare providers are using correct body mechanics and posture with lifts and slings to avoid injury.
Body technique is just as important as the technology itself.
The change doesn’t stop with new lifts – even robots are beginning to find a place in the modern healthcare workplace, though at this point only in support roles to care workers. Robotic technology can be used to remove some of the repetitive strain that nurses and CNAs face every day. For instance, the Tugs system developed by Aethon has been utilized to take over the everyday transportation tasks, saving nurses and CNAs the stress of moving equipment, medications, and other resources. Likewise, new technology has been developed to perform challenging and exhausting tasks like chest compressions on patients. With the advantages of new technology, there are more ways than ever to keep health workers from overexerting themselves and facing injuries that affect patient care and the bottom line.
Sadly, there are other factors in the patient and senior resident populations that have created challenges for care workers. Violence by patients against nurses, CNAs, and senior care employees has risen, and these facilities are required to take proper steps to ensure the safety of their workers. Organizations should invest in greater security and more detailed policies concerning resident violence in order to establish a safe work environment for their caretakers.
Broad Care for a Challenging Profession
Workers in virtually every industry can benefit from a strategy that covers all elements of the worker’s experience, including body, behavior, and environment. Nurses and CNAs especially can see the positive effects of a multi-faceted safety plan, one that combines the engagement of proactive education and the immediate benefits of on-site coaching with a safer work environment where technology works to ease the burden that they carry in their daily work. With a strategy that incorporates keen observation and attention to the specialized techniques that healthcare workers have to use, you can eliminate sources of risk and make sure your staff is engaged with their own health and equipped to do their jobs effectively.