According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nursing assistants are subject to more than 35,000 back-related injuries every year.
Some injuries are so severe nurses are forced to stay home from work. In fact, the BLS collected data that proved nursing assistants are injured more often than any other occupation’s employees. This includes truckers, warehouse workers, and registered nurses. Why are so many nursing assistants receiving back-related injuries, and what is being done to protect them?
The number one cause for back injuries for nursing assistants is lifting and handling patients. Many nurses must help patients off a bed, out of a chair, etc. Without the help of a machine or colleagues, sometimes lifting a patient is an impossible task. Many patients can be 250 to 300 pounds, and with the increasing obesity problem in America, nurses continue to injure their backs when lifting such patients. Some nurses are forced to end their career early due to injuries.
If so many nurses are getting injured, shouldn’t something be done?
Suzanne Gordon, author of Nursing Against the Odds, explains that “Too many hospital administrators see nursing staff as second-class citizens,” and therefore don’t afford them the same priority as other employees. Many hospitals do not house the machinery necessary for a nurse to safely move a patient. Even four nurses cannot safely handle a 300 pound patient without strain on their backs. The Baptist Health System in Florida and various medical centers in the Department of Veteran Affairs have implemented machines in order to decrease work place injuries. Since the machines have been installed, back related injuries in nurses have decreased by 80%.
Some hospitals have established the use of machines for patient handling and lifting, but most still require nurses to lift patients themselves. Most of the time, other colleagues are not available to help fellow nurses, deeming it impossible to avoid injury when handling a larger patient. On January 1, 2012, California passed the Hospital Patient and Health Care Worker Injury Protection Act. Not too long after, nursing employees from the Walnut Creek Kaiser location started filing complaints.
This Kaiser hospital is currently under fire for failing to have “specific procedures in place to ensure that sufficient staff was available to perform patient handles tasks safely.” Administrative Law Judge, Mary Dryovage, issued this order after a state investigator from California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health was alerted by nursing employees at the Kaiser hospital. The nurses filed a complaint with the state, alleging that Kaiser violated the law by not taking the proper safety precautions to protect the hospitals employees.
Kaiser has made a plan to spend at least $40 million to install lifting machines into its older hospitals, including Walnut Creek. Hopefully with the new installments, less nurses will become injured every year.
Nursing assistants who are injured on the job are not allowed to sue their employer for negligence. All employees give up their right to sue an employer for these issues in exchange for payment through workers compensation if injured on the job. Employees can file a personal injury lawsuit, but only against someone who is responsible for your injury and is not your employer.
Hopefully overtime, more patient-lifting machines will be installed for nurses to use. The number of nursing assistants becoming injured each year is unacceptable, and it’s time for them to become a priority.