You probably don’t think of nursing as a dangerous profession.
But each year, more than 35,000 nurses, orderlies and nurses assistants suffer back and arm injuries that are serious enough that they have to miss work, according to surveys from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
A recent NPR series found that nursing employees “suffer roughly three times the rate of back and other musculoskeletal injuries as construction laborers,” all in the course of their everyday job duties — lifting and moving patients.
These are not minor injuries, but life changing ones that may require multiple surgeries and a cocktail of prescription drugs and pain medications. Many injured nurses lose their careers because of their injuries and will endure chronic pain and mobility issues for the rest of their lives.
Research has shown that there’s no safe way for nurses to move patients manually without risking serious injury to themselves.
“The bottom line is, there’s no safe way to lift a patient manually,” William Marras, director of The Ohio State University’s Spine Research Institute, which has conducted landmark studies on the issue, told NPR “The magnitude of these forces that are on your spine are so large that the best body mechanics in the world are not going to keep you from getting a back problem.”
Yet hospitals continue to stress the same safe patient handling techniques and protocols when there’s a better solution that would prevent a majority of back and arm injuries in nurses. There is equipment available to help nurses move patients safely, without risk of injury, but few hospitals are wiling to invest money in these lifts, hoists and other devices, NPR found.
And only 10 states have comprehensive programs specifically designed to protect nursing staff at hospitals. North Carolina is not one of them.
One of the nurses profiled in the NPR series worked at Asheville’s Mission Hospital. Though her injury clearly happened on the job, the hospital tried to deny her workers’ compensation benefits by claiming it happened while she was at home. You can listen to that story here.
Listen to the full NPR series about nurses and workplace injuries here.