If somebody were to ask you which occupation saw more back and musculoskeletal injuries per year, construction laborers or nursing assistants and orderlies, which would be your guess? Believe it or not, the answer is nursing assistants, orderlies, and healthcare staff- and the margin of victory is not even close. An article by NPR declares that the laborers of this category are prone to suffering approximately three times the amount of back/musculoskeletal injuries as construction workers.
According to surveys by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 35,000 various on-the-job injuries (predominantly in the back and spine) that require a leave from work among nursing and healthcare employees per year.
What is it in a nurse’s workday that causes so many staffing injuries? The culprit is the lifting and transporting of patients. Many orderlies and nurses assistants are tasked with hoisting patients and invalids that weigh in at 300 pounds or more. Doing this day after day takes a veritable toll on the back and spine, and each year thousands of workers feel the consequences.
What’s more, it appears that there is no way to sidestep the mishaps that accompany lifting and moving patients. NPR reveals that hospitals and nursing schools are teaching nurses lifting methods that put them in great risk of inadvertent, career-ending back injuries. William Marras of the Spine Research Institute of Ohio State University tells NPR, “The bottom line is, there’s no safe way to lift a patient manually. The magnitude of these forces that are on your spine are so large that the best body mechanics in the world are not going to keep you from getting a back problem.”
So, the age-old “bend your knees, keep your back straight, and lift with your legs” technique is facing increased scrutiny. Clearly, the new consensus is that hospitals need to find alternate methods of raising and hauling patients. NPR reports that some hospitals, such as Florida’s Baptist Health System and the Department of Veterans Affairs have reduced staffing injuries by nearly 80% by utilizing mechanized processes for patient-lifting.
While there are several progressive medical systems that are implementing machines to perform these task, the majority of hospitals and healthcare facilities are not making a concerted effort to reduce staffing injuries. It appears that until there is a more serious, committed effort to change policy, nurses and orderlies will retain their high rank on the list of occupational injuries.