In September of 2015, one hospital patient managed to attack 14 nurses and staff members, most of whom sustained injuries. The incident began when a nurse informed the patient that in order to receive food, he would have to first take his medicine. Incensed by this, the man threw a cup of ice at the nurse and began yelling at her, threatening her and other staff members. The nurse left the room and made sure to warn her fellow coworkers to vacate the area.
After exiting his hospital room, the man ran through the halls trying to obtain a key card, while simultaneously attacking anyone nearby. The list of violent behavior from the patient is extensive:
- He punched several nurses and staff members with closed fists.
- He chased after nurses and staff with a hole-puncher.
- He swung restraints with metal hooks at nurses and staff.
- He elbowed employees in the face.
- He threw objects at nurses.
The man was released from the hospital and has been taken into custody with several charges of third-degree assault and battery.
It’s not hard to imagine that this type of episode could leave the nurses and staff feeling scared to come back to work. Even without being attacked, nurses are injured on the job all the time. This is the unfortunate state of nursing today.
The State Of Nursing
From emergencies to hospice care, from cancer to the common cold, nurses are there to take care of those who need it most. Most people can recall a time they visited a doctor’s office and it is always a nurse who sees them first, listens to them, and makes them feel heard.
Nurses are the largest group of health professionals. Florence Nightingale, arguably the most famous nurse of all time, once said “The very first requirement in a hospital is that it should do the sick no harm.” But what about the nurses?
Now more than ever, the concern over nurse health and well-being while on the job is growing. With over 35,000 nurses who suffer just back injuries a year, it should come as no surprise that OSHA started an initiative to prevent injuries to healthcare workers in 2015.
The rate and frequency of injuries to nurses is, to borrow a medical term, an epidemic. Let’s talk about how bad this epidemic is.
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Why Are Nurses Getting Hurt At Work?
The problem is twofold: typical patient needs and patient-to-nurse violence.
Typical Patient Needs
A large part of medical care involves using one’s back to lift and move patients. Whether patients need help getting up, lying down, going to the bathroom, or simply repositioning themselves, nurses are typically the ones who do the lifting. This puts a ton of pressure on the back, neck, and musculoskeletal structure.
It is hard to grasp how a patient could lash out at the very person who is caring for them, but it happens more often than anyone would like to imagine. For example, it was recently reported that a disgruntled patient attacked a group of nurses with pole taken from his hospital bed.
Injuries by the numbers
Some of these facts and figures may shock you but they’re the hard truth about nursing injuries today.
- In 2011, no group of workers outranked nursing assistants in the number of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Registered nurses ranked fifth.
- Nurses suffer almost twice the amount of work-related injuries than all other U.S. industries combined. In 2013, an average of 6.4 work-related injuries occur in U.S. hospitals for every 100 full-time workers. The number of work-related injuries per 100 full-time employees in all industries combined is only 3.3.
- For nurses and nurses assistants, workplace violence comes at a higher rate than any other sector of health care.
- A 2014 survey found that almost 80% of nurses reported being attacked while at work by a patient within the last year.
- 17 out of 50 states do not require employers to run workplace violence prevention programs
- 17 out of 50 states do not delegate penalties for assault of nursing employees.
Who Is Most At Risk For Injury
The risk of injury is two-fold, but certain demographics of nurses may encounter these risks more often.
Emergency Room Nurses
Patients who enter the emergency room are somewhat of a double threat. They are often incapacitated, need to be repositioned, and/or lifted onto and off of stretchers. Not only this, but in the emergency room, time is of the essence, so these lifts need to be done as quickly as possible. The faster nurses lift patients, the less likely they are to execute these lifts with proper form, which predisposes them to injury.
Violent attacks are also a big problem for emergency room nurses. Patients entering the emergency room, if awake, are typically very distressed. They have arrived there under the assumption that whatever is ailing them is a true emergency. High stress levels make for short fuses, and unfortunately, patients sometimes lash out at nurses in these high stress situations.
Nursing Home Nurses
Nurses caring for the elderly cater to a very specific set of patient needs. Patients in nursing homes often require assistance getting in and out of bed, using the restroom, walking, sitting down, and more. Therefore, the net weight of a person over and over again can put a lot of strain on nurses’ backs, resulting in injury.
Psychiatric Ward Nurses
Similar to the emergency room, psych ward patients may enter the hospital in a state of extreme distress. Logical mental functioning may be limited, while impulsive and irrational thought processes may be heightened. As a result, patients may become so irritated that they attack the very people who are attempting to provide them care. Beyond suffering an attack, nurses must then work to restrain the patient, which could further injure the nurses.
If you recall what Florence Nightingale said, it is the nurse’s responsibility to do no harm to the patient. Meanwhile, nurses sustain injuries on the job all the time. So what is being done to ensure no harm is being done by employers too?
What Is Being Done To Prevent These Injuries?
Individuals and organizations have worked hard to pass laws to ensure nurses’ safety in the workplace.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA Act)
This act aims to ensure workplaces are safe. The act sets about standards for engineering controls, training for personal protective equipment, and occupational hazard limits. If a specific workplace danger surfaces but is not described explicitly in the act, the act’s “general duty” clause mandates that employers keep a workplace free of hazards that are likely to result in death or serious injury.
2015 Nurse and Healthcare Worker Protection Act
On December 16th, 2015, Senator Al Franken, sponsored the Act, which was read twice and passed on to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The Act was proposed because of the alarming amount of workplace injuries that nurses suffer, despite the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 still being in place. The new act proposes that a healthcare worker should be able to refuse an “unsafe assignment” if they have a legitimate concern for the consequences of such an assignment on their personal well-being.
There are several organizations that have a strong commitment to workplace safety.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the leading national authority on workplace health regulations and worker safety.
Emergency Nurses Association originally formed to cater to teaching and networking needs within the emergency nurse sector of the healthcare field. Now, however, ENA advocates for emergency nurses’ rights and have developed the Emergency Department Workplace Injury Prevention Toolkit, which is free for members.
The American Nurses Association’s mission is to promote “a safe and ethical work environment” for the 3.4 million registered nurses it represents. ANA insists that workplaces work to phase out manual patient handling, reducing back injuries. In addition, ANA has openly supported the 2015 Nurse and Healthcare Worker Protection Act.
Beyond legislation and organizational action, there are other resources that nurses can utilize to protect themselves while at work.
The Bill Of Rights Of Registered Nurses
While this is not a legal document, it is a valuable resource for both nurses and their employers alike. Expert nurses developed the document, which was approved by a nationally representative group of nurses. In it, there are seven “rights” that reign as the most important for nurses. You can access the document here.
This document is especially useful for nurses when having conversations with their employers about their safety at work because it lends credibility to the discussion. The Bill Of Rights Of Registered Nurses is a nationally-recognized consensus document, and nurses can use it to avoid unsafe staffing situations, overtime disputes, workplace violence incidents, and more.
Personal Injury Attorneys
If you believe you have been injured at work due to a negligible hazard, workplace environment, assignment, you may be eligible to file a worker’s compensation claim. It is always a good idea to consult with a workers’ compensation attorney who can assist you with filing a claim, appealing a denied claim, and who can also determine if you may be eligible for a personal injury lawsuit against the party whose negligence resulted in your injury.