Nursing Home and Healthcare Workers

By William Bill Hurst

Hospital and nursing home workers experience accidental muscle injuries at a rate that exceeds workers in construction, mining, and other work place occupations.  NIOSH(A) was created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act to look for ways to prevent injuries in the work place because many of these injuries have resulted in permanent damage.  The Agency for Health care Research and Quality funds studies on the effectiveness of injury treatment methods for lifting related injuries.  These injuries are due in part to the manual patient handling activities which often involve lifting, associated with transferring and repositioning patients.  This is further compounded by the obesity epidemic in the United States and the rapid increasing number of older people who require assistance in nursing home settings.

Nursing Home and Healthcare WorkersThe cost with back injuries in the nursing home and hospital industry are estimated to be 20 billion dollars annually.  Three states currently have passed legislation supportive of safe patient and/or resident handling Ohio, New York and Hawaii.  Six states have passed legislation requiring safe patient handling policies including Texas, Washington, Rhode Island, Maryland, Minnesota, and New Jersey.  Nurses’ aids and orderlies suffer the highest percentage (18.8%) of the injuries and report the most annual cases (269,000) of work-related back injuries and back pain among workers in the United States.  In 2000, 10,983 registered nurses suffered loss-time work, injuries due to lifting patients, causing back shakes and sprains, per NIOSH.

Nursing Home and Healthcare WorkersNIOSH has conducted a large field of study to determine if there is an invention consisting of mechanical equipment to lift physically dependent residents, training of the proper use of lifts, safe lifting policy and pre-existing medical management program to reduce the rate of associated costs of the medical providers handling injuries for nursing personnel.  A six year period from January 1995 to December 2000 1,728 nursing personnel were followed before and after implementation of the invention.  The result was significant reduction in injuries, workers compensation costs, and lost days from injuries.  The first report of employment injury rates were reduced by 35%.  Information on this study can be found in the publication NIOSH’s publication Safe Lifting and Movement of Nursing Home Residents.  NIOSH has formulated several safe lifting programs which were experimentally implemented in seven nursing homes and one hospital.  The injury statistics that were collected after implementation were compared with 37 months of pre-invention data.  The number of back and spinal injuries from patient transfers decreased by 62%, lost days by 86% and restricted work days by 64% and workers compensation costs by 84%.  This program produced many intangible benefits including improvements in patient comfort and safety during transfers and patient care.  Despite all this information, many health care providers continue to use outdated and unsafe manual patient handling techniques resulting in spinal injuries and related costs.  Beginning in 2009 NIOSH has conducted a project aimed at improving safety while lifting and moving obese objects.  Obese individuals require more frequent extensive health care due to obesity related health problems.  In the upcoming project they will evaluate these patients handling practices at multiple hospitals including intervention programs and health/safety outcomes to identify and promote best practices.

Clearly injuries to the back are one of the most prevalent and costly work related injuries in the United States.  Low back pain adversely affects over 1 million workers in the United States every year and is responsible for most lost work days than any other muscle disorder.  American hospitals will eventually have to deal with this issue but the question remains how long will it take and how many people will be injured before that happens.

Back injuries in nursing home and medical settings can develop gradually as a result by micor-trauma to the muscles brought about by the repetitive activity of lifting or could be the product of a single traumatic event.  Often because of the slow and progressive onset of the internal injury, to the soft muscle tissue, the condition is often ignored until symptoms become acute resulting in disabling injury.  While these injuries account for no work related deaths, they do account for a significant amount of human suffering and loss of productivity in the economic burden on compensation systems.  Back disorders are one of the leading causes of disability for people in their working years and affect over 600,000 employees each year with a cost of 50 billion in 1991 according to NIOSH .

While many people believe they know how to uplift properly and safely they are often mistaken.  The lifting process where the demand is too high can injure the muscle and cause microscopic tears,which result in muscle strain and are often difficult to treat.  Very simple techniques can often avoid back injury to the worker.

On January 1, 2006 Texas was they first date to implement a new law know as the Lifting Law for Hospitals and Nursing Homes.  It is believed that this law will spread to other states.  The law requires the governing body of a hospital or nursing home to adopt and ensure the implementation of a policy to identify, access and develop strategies to control risk of injuries to patients and nurses associated with the lifting, transferring, re-positioning or movement of a patient. .

Nursing Home and Healthcare WorkersThe latest Bureau of Labor Statistics and Nursing show that nursing tops the lists of occupations most associated with work-related back injuries.  During a typical shift, an average hospital staff nurse will lift twenty patients and transfer five to ten patients from a bed to a chair.  Patients weigh typically in excess of 100 pounds, which puts the load well above the weight that would be considered safe for industrial workers.  There are a number of programs presently looking at ways to improve training programs that could be effective in preventing these incidents and severity of back injuries.

Throughout all industries back injuries are the nation’s number one work place safety problem.  No approach has been found for totally eliminating back injuries caused by lifting but it is felt that a substantial portion can be prevented by an effective program.

If you have received an injury to your back or spine and would like to talk with an attorney who has represented clients with similar injuries and claims, call William W. Hurst for a free consultation.

Nursing Home and Healthcare Workers

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