How nurses can improve their safety on the job
Registered nurses have the fifth-highest rate of ergonomic injury in the nation, according to a report published in 2013 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
These injuries, which can affect muscles, nerves, the spine and other parts of the body, are so widespread that in 2012, the American Nurses Association developed new workplace nursing safety standards that it’s pushing to become law at both the state and federal levels.
“Injury prevention is one of the things new nursing managers often have to learn the most about when they move into those positions,” says Donna Lupinacci, MSN, a nursing compliance officer and former emergency room nurse manager who serves as area chair for the nursing program at the University of Phoenix® San Diego Campus.
Here are six ways Lupinacci says nurses can reduce their risk of injury on the job:
Use “lift teams” and lifting equipment.
No nurse should ever attempt to lift or move a patient alone, Lupinacci stresses. “Doing so is a real hazard, especially as nurses get older and are more prone to injury,” she says, noting that the median age of a U.S. nurse is 46.
“I weigh 112 pounds, and if I ever tried to lift a 200- or 400-pound patient alone, I [could] get severely hurt,” she adds.
Lupinacci recommends that all hospitals and clinics require nurses to use lift teams — groups of nurses who work together to lift patients safely — and employ mechanical lifting equipment designed to move obese patients. “Nursing managers need to make sure that ‘no lifting alone’ is a policy,” she says, noting that a number of states mandate safe patient-lifting policies.
Reduce tripping hazards.
Whether it’s by slipping in puddles of urine and spilled IV fluids or tripping over the many cords and tubes attached to medical equipment, nurses are frequently at risk for falls, Lupinacci explains.
“Working in health care, you’re often in a hurry — especially in emergency situations,” she says. “But you still have to be aware of your surroundings at all times.” She recommends that hospitals use cord guides to help keep cords and tubes out of walkways, and stresses the importance of immediately cleaning up any spilled fluids.
“Nurses should also wear good [non-skid] footwear that fits well, with closed toes and heels,” she adds.
Get vaccinated and follow safety protocols.
Because they’re in frequent contact with blood, urine and other bodily fluids, nurses chance contracting blood-borne illnesses like hepatitis and HIV.
“All nurses should receive both the hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines,” Lupinacci says. “[They also should] always wear all appropriate protective gear and follow universal [biohazard] precautions when coming into contact with bodily fluids and needles.”
In addition, nurses have a higher possibility of catching “superbugs” like drug-resistant staph infections, along with common illnesses like the flu because of their direct contact with sick patients. “Get your flu shot and always make sure you’re washing your hands and changing gloves between patients,” Lupinacci stresses.
Treat impaired patients with extra caution.
When caring for patients with severe mental disorders or dementia, nurses should request help if they need it, she says.
“Nurses caring for obviously violent patients or those under the influence of alcohol or drugs [need to] have their guard up for possible assault,” she notes, adding that elderly dementia patients also can pose a threat, something many nurses don’t realize but should be prepared for.
For example, these patients can lash out in fear during painful procedures, Lupinacci explains, noting that attacks on nurses by the elderly are not uncommon.
“I still have a scar from when a 90-year-old woman bit me when I administered her IV,” she recalls. “It took four people to unclench her jaws from my arm.”
“Nursing is very physically demanding, so anything you can do to increase your bone and muscle strength will help reduce your injury risk,” Lupinacci points out. “Do exercises that improve core [abdominal] stability, like yoga and Pilates. Take calcium and vitamin D to keep your bones strong, and try to maintain a healthy weight.”
Keep up on injury-prevention training.
Nurses and nursing managers must stay current on the latest safety protocols, which are taught in hospitals and by government agencies like the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Lupinacci emphasizes, noting, “Getting that training is crucial to reducing nursing injuries.”