An investigation by National Public Radio (NPR) called it “one of the most dangerous jobs in America.” What was this dangerous job? When we think of dangerous work, we routinely picture mining, farming and building trades. Yet, NPR’s investigation involved a very different type of work.
NPR’s study discussed nursing-related jobs in medical facilities. That is, when NPR discussed “one of the most dangerous jobs in America,” it meant nurses, nursing assistants and orderlies. According to NPR:
Back and other injuries occur in this profession at far higher rates than even the construction industry. It also sees more of these injuries than law enforcement.
Even worse, according to the NPR investigation, medical facility executives are doing very little to prevent major injuries among their staff. How frequent are injuries among the medical staff at patient facilities? According to statistics:
Government surveys estimate there are more than 35,000 back and other injuries among nursing staff every year that are so bad the employees have to miss work. And they get those injuries mainly by moving and lifting patients.
Think about it — In hospitals and nursing homes, the nursing staff spends much of its time physically moving infirm patients. How many professions might require a worker to lift or move objects weighing over 100 pounds? Not many. Yet, many medical facility nurses frequently lift greater weights.
In the last few decades, the physical demands on nursing staff employees have increased. Why? Several factors contribute to the increasing physical toll of nursing jobs, including:
- Staff Shortages. Hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities have made tremendous staffing cuts. In many cases, remaining nurses face patient numbers far beyond their ability. Because of this, these employees no longer have the help needed from co-workers when lifting or moving heavy patients.
- Increasing Patient Obesity. Federal surveys show a majority of adults are overweight or obese. As the NPR investigation notes, “a 250-300 pound patient is – can be very common.” Medical facility workers are increasingly required to lift and move heavier patients than required just a few decades ago.
- Sicker Patients. Hospital patients are sicker than they were decades ago. In recent decades, hospitals have begun treating people as outpatients whenever possible. While this transition is not a bad thing, it leaves facility staff caring for inpatients who are sicker and less mobile. Thus, inpatient staff must work harder to move patients.
Despite these concerning trends, nurses don’t have to get hurt. Medical facilities could employ teams to lift patients. Medical facilities could provide better training in lifting techniques. Medical facilities could provide lifting equipment. Lifting equipment is used in other settings to protect workers. This equipment could easily be employed in medical facilities.
And, medical facilities should care for staff members after an injury as well. Yet, they often do not. The same medical facilities which provide state-of-the-art care for normal patients, often neglect nursing staff suffering from injuries. That’s wrong. All too often in my practice, I hear from nurses who were practically abandoned by their employers following a significant injury.
We talk to many medical facility employees suffering injuries from lifting and moving heavy patients. We frequently see torn shoulders as well as herniated discs in the neck or lower back. These injuries can be devastating. Many of them could have been prevented. Too often, these injuries are made worse when the employer refuses to provide treatment or even terminates the worker.
We believe injured nursing staff should receive necessary medical care and proper benefits. When medical facilities refuse to take their obligation to injured employees seriously, we counsel the employee on the process to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.