When nurses lift a heavy patient, they don’t always realize that they may become part of a troubling set of statistics. Studies performed by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), indicate that there are 35,000 plus back and other injuries among nursing employees each year that are sufficiently severe to cause periods of missed work or even the end of careers. In many instances, where hospitals have denied benefits to an injured worker, it has been necessary for the individual to consult a workers’ compensation lawyer. National Public Radio (NPR) really delved into this situation with a whole series of programs on the subject. To read about a couple of case studies, click here and here.
Nursing Assistants – The Number One Job For Injuries
Nursing assistants and orderlies suffer more back and other musculoskeletal injuries than any other occupation – roughly three times the rate of construction laborers. The number one reason for these injuries is related to the everyday job of lifting and moving patients. Staffing shortages add to the risk; when there are fewer people to assist, nurses are expected to do more. And, because of the surging rate of obesity, patients are heavier than ever before.
In the early 1990s, researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) began studying why so many nursing staff were suffering from back injuries. They found that auto factory workers, who were ninety-three percent male, were prohibited from lifting over thirty-five pounds, whereas nursing employees (many of whom are female) typically lift far heavier patients a dozen or more times every day.
Hospitals Know About the Problem
Hospitals have not just suddenly become aware of this situation. Research from decades back demonstrated that the traditional way nurses have been taught to move patients – using “proper body mechanics” by bending the knees and keeping the back straight — is not safe enough.
“The bottom line is, there’s no safe way to lift a patient manually,” says William Marras, director of The Ohio State University’s Spine Research Institute, which has conducted landmark studies on the issue. “The magnitude of these forces that is on your spine is so large that the best body mechanics in the world are not going to keep you from getting a back problem.”
What Are Hospitals Doing About the Situation?
In recent years, a few hospitals have begun using an approach known as “safe patient handling,” and the claim is that this has reduced the incident of back injuries by up to eighty percent. This technique makes use of machinery in the form of motorized hoists to lift patients. But unfortunately, even when a lifting machine is on the premises, nurses often don’t find it to be readily available. They might discover that some other unit has borrowed it, the battery is dead, or the members of the lift team are off performing other duties.
What is the Government Doing?
In January 2012, California passed the Hospital Patient and Health Care Worker Injury Protection Act. This law, which had been advocated for years by public health groups and the California Nurses Association union, requires hospitals to protect nursing staff from getting hurt lifting patients. But only ten other states have passed similar measures – Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington.
Workers Compensation Lawyer
Hospitals may deny benefits to injured nurses on various grounds, but a workers’ compensation attorney can help to secure the benefits they deserve. So, if you are a hospital employee and have sustained a back injury at work, you should inform your employer about it immediately and speak to a workers’ compensation lawyer about your legal rights and options. Contact us to see how we can help you.