Nurses work in fast-paced environments, increasing the chances of being exposed to occupational hazards that can cause injuries. While tending to patient needs, nurses are at risk for musculoskeletal injuries, biohazard exposure and work-related stress.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said many of the about 3.4 million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide face hazards in their daily jobs. Most of the injuries are a result of overexertion, slips, trips and falls.
Healthcare organizations including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the American Nurses Association (ANA) say the key to preventing injuries is to create an organizational culture that prioritizes nurse safety. When nurses feel safe from injuries or illnesses, patient outcomes improve, researchers from the Joint Commission said.
“When team members know that their well-being is a priority, they are able to be meaningfully engaged in their work, to be more satisfied, less likely to experience burnout, and to deliver more effective and safer care,” the Joint Commission said in “The essential role of leadership in developing a safety culture.”
At the same time, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) also identified education and training as key to preventing nurse injuries. Indeed, some of the benefits of earning a BSN degree, including an RN to BSN online, involve learning strategies to avoid nurse injuries.
Common Injuries in Nursing
According to the BLS in its most recent survey, RNs experienced about 19,800 injuries and illnesses that resulted in days off work in 2016. The BLS found the most common injuries and prevention techniques are:
About 48 percent of nurse injuries that result in days away from work are caused by motions that include lifting, bending, crawling, reaching and twisting. Most of the time, these motions are related to moving and lifting patients. The resulting soft tissue and musculoskeletal injuries, particularly in the back, can lead to pain, tingling, stiffness and swelling.
Patient lifting aids, also known as mechanical assistive devices, can help nurses avoid severe back injuries. Devices that include gait and transfer belts, lift slings and slide sheets also help move patients.
“Sometimes a nurse may think it’s too time consuming to get and use a lift or that the person is not too heavy. However, it only takes one wrong move to injure yourself,” Renee Watson, RN, manager of infection prevention and epidemiology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, GA, said to American Mobile.
Slips, trips and falls
About 25 percent of nurse injuries that result in days away from work are caused by slips, trips and falls (STF). Nurses and other healthcare workers slip on wet floors, trip over hoses and cords and fall over equipment.
OSHA recommends areas with STF hazards be clearly marked. Facilities should also eliminate clutter, install better lighting and floor mats in slippery areas. Nurses should also wear shoes with skid-resistant soles.
Contact with potentially harmful objects or substances
About 17 percent of nurse injuries are caused by coming into contact with diseases, drugs, used needles, chemicals or radiation.
To combat contact illnesses or injuries, nurses should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, goggles and respirators. They should also undergo decontamination if the substance has the potential for secondary exposure
About 9 percent of nurse injuries are a result of violence, both physical and emotional. At the same time, OSHA said a vast number of violence incidents go unreported.
“A survey of 4,738 Minnesota nurses found that only 69 percent of physical assaults and 71 percent of non-physical assaults were reported to a manager, while one medical center found that half of verbal and physical assaults by patients against nurses were never reported in writing,” OSHA said in its “Workplace Violence in Healthcare” report.
OSHA recommends nurses report incidents of violence or near violence to the proper authorities.
Other Tips for Avoiding Injuries and Illnesses
Nursing organizations also advocate for RNs to use common practices to avoid injuries and illnesses, such as:
Use proper handwashing techniques
Proper handwashing not only protects nurses from illnesses or disease, it also protects coworkers, patients and families. Handwashing should happen before, during and after a shift. It should also happen before and after contact with patients, in between procedures on the same patient, before putting on and after taking gloves off and before and after handling food. Nurses should also wash their hands after personal hygiene functions.
Nurses should be up to date on all vaccines, including the annual flu vaccine. Healthcare providers and others who work in hospitals are at a higher risk of developing or transmitting disease to peers, patients and family members.
The ANA said nurses have a responsibility to be vaccinated to promote optimal health. The organization recommends the following vaccines for nurses:
- Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (Tdap)
- Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR)
- Hepatitis B
- Varicella (Chickenpox)
Nursing can be a stressful job, so experts recommend exercising, eating right and taking time to relax. Most important, according to Minority Nurse, is getting enough sleep.
“Nurses are notorious for not getting enough sound sleep on a regular basis — odd shifts and rotating schedules don’t help the body to regulate rhythms,” author Jebra Turner said in “Self-Care: Start with Sleep.” “Fatigue is one thing but it’s worst when a sleep-deprived nurse actually nods off while at the bedside or on the road after a late shift. Obviously, that’s extremely dangerous — for you, your patients and everyone near you.”
Earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and other healthcare organizations said nurses with bachelor’s degrees improve patient outcomes. One of the benefits of a BSN education is learning safe nursing habits that prevent injuries and illnesses.
At Duquesne University, RN to BSN online students learn strategies that promote a culture of safety and safeguard against common injuries in nursing.
About Duquesne University’s Online RN-BSN Program
Duquesne University’s online RN-BSN program teaches essential skills for nursing practice. The program is flexible and 100 percent online.
Licensed RNs in the RN to BSN online program automatically earn 60 of the required 120 credit hours for graduation. Those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field and are a licensed RN are only required to complete 30 credit hours to earn a BSN. Students in the online RN-BSN program also have an opportunity to take master’s-level coursework for a head start on an MSN degree.
For more information, visit Duquesne University’s online RN-BSN program website.
Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses: ANA
Occupational injuries and illnesses among registered nurses: BLS
Culture of Safety: AHRQ
Sentinel Event Alert: The Joint Commission
Worker Safety in Your Hospital: OSHA
Top 10 Ways to Avoid Injuries and Illness at Your Nursing Job: AMN
Nurse Safety from Exposure to Chemicals and Biologics: Hazard Assessment, Decontamination and the Use of Personal Protective Equipment: Health Science Journal
Workplace Violence in Healthcare: OSHA
Playing a Hand in Infection Control: Lippincott
Sleep: Minority Nurse
The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice: AACN