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Recognizing nursing hazards: Important safety strategies

Date: December 29, 2017

More than 2.8 million registered nurses work in U.S. health care centers, according to research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These clinical professionals see at least 127 million patients per year, analysts for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. This is physically taxing work. In addition to addressing multiple patients in the midst of dire health crises, RNs must navigate many material hazards.

A significant number of nurses fall victim to workplace dangers. Nearly 19,000 sustained injuries occurred while on the job in 2015, according to the BLS. These individuals took nine days of sick time, on average, following their incidents. Even after they returned, it’s likely they fulfilled their duties while in pain, something an estimated 80 percent of RNs do, according to research from the American Nurses Association.

With this in mind, both health care providers and nursing professionals must adopt workable strategies for identifying and addressing serious workplace hazards in clinical environments. Here are some of the most common threats facing nurses and the methodologies hospitals and other facilities are putting into place to address them:

Patient handling
Nurses are routinely responsible for assisting patients who struggle to move on their own. This requires considerable physical strength and coordination. RNs have traditionally received education on how to handle these tasks, most of which centers on specialized ergonomic instruction. However, even nurses who practice sound body mechanics can sustain injuries while lifting patients, according to research from scholars at the Biodynamics Laboratory at Ohio State University. Injury data substantiates this state of affairs. Roughly one-quarter of all health care workers’ compensation claims filed in 2011 were associated with injuries sustained during patient handling procedures, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) discovered.

How can nurses avoid these injuries? Ideally, hospitals should develop more modern patient handling programs that take nursing professionals out of the equation. This may seem like a farfetched and possibly expensive solution on the surface. However, designing and implementing such initiatives is possible.

Hospitals with these programs in place rely on mechanical equipment to move patients, installing large lifting tools that allow nurses to relocate their charges with little physical effort, according to OSHA. These implements have drastically reduced injuries among nurses and, in turn, cut costs associated with workers’ compensation claims. Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, launched an $800,000 patient-handling program that saved more than $2.2 million over five years, half of which came from a significant drop in worker compensation claim penalties.

Nursing professionals should be aware of this danger and work with hospitals to develop institution-wide strategies for reducing the physical burden of handling patients.

Workplace violence
Assault is surprisingly common in U.S. health care centers, according to the ANA. Worker-on-worker confrontations, as well as those initiated by patients and visitors occur with regularity, putting nursing professionals at risk. In fact, instances of assault account for nine percent of all workplace injuries recorded in the health care space, according to OSHA.

Many organizations in the industry are taking steps to address this hazard, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Some believe even more work is required.

“We need hospitals and hospital administrators to take steps now to increase the safety of their emergency departments so that patients can receive the care they need,” AnnMarie Papa, former president of the Emergency Nurses Association, told the group. “Zero-tolerance policies are showing great promise for reducing the incidence of violence, and we would like to see more hospitals implement these policies in order to safeguard patients’ safety and health, as well as that of the people who care for them.”

In addition to maintaining zero-tolerance programs and workplace violence policies in accordance with state law, hospitals and other facilities can help nurses get the education they need to deal with combative individuals, including the family members of patients. The number of assaults involving these individuals has risen in recent years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found. Nursing professionals capable of de-escalating such confrontations may be more likely to avoid serious injuries.

Nurse helps patient

Illnesses and pathogens
RNs regularly encounter bacteria and other pathogens when working with ailing patients, handling possibly contaminated equipment or even engaging in workplace procedures considered safe. For example, many nurses develop dermatitis due to repeated, vigorous hand-washing, Becker’s Hospital Review reported. The publication cited an Oxford University study that showed nurses are 4.5 more times likely to incur moderate to severe skin damage than individuals in other professions.

RNs also encounter common illnesses like the flu, which many health care organizations attempt to address in a reactive fashion, which is rarely effective.

“Organizations shouldn’t wait until they see an influx of influenza to react,” Martie Moore, chief nursing officer for Medline, told Becker’s Hospital Review. “Being proactive about the types of tools to use and planning ahead will help you and your organization be prepared, educated and safe.”

Nursing professionals can, of course, protect themselves by staying up to date on their vaccinations and generally monitoring their health to catch small clinic-borne illnesses early.

Apart from adopting these strategies, registered nurses can gain the knowhow to safely navigate clinical spaces by enrolling in the Online Master of Science in Nursing Administration program at Bradley University. Here, RNs can expand their knowledge on a wide range of topics, ranging from community nursing theory to evidence-based practice, all without stepping foot on campus. The 36-45 credit degree track ends with a capstone research project and two preceptor-supervised clinical practicums, which can be administered locally.

The online MSN program at Bradley is the ideal choice for registered nurses hoping to move upward mid-career and expand their skill sets so as to better serve their patients. Prospective students can find more information on the program at the Bradley University website.

Recommended Readings:
“Improving patient satisfaction: Strategies for nursing staff”
“What nurses need to know about PrEP”