Nurses Worry About Injuries, and It May Affect Patient Care


By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

Nursing remains an intense and physically demanding profession. A majority of nurses recently surveyed reported being worried that their job negatively affects their health--and that influences the care they provide.

“The survey does a good job of showing nurses’ concern with the environment,” said Steve Reinecke, assistant vice president of Ergotron Healthcare of Saint Paul, Minn., which commissioned the study by GMI Research in Bellevue, Wash., to learn more about the challenges nurses are having utilizing technology while delivering care.

“Nurses need to realize from an ergonomic perspective, hospitals are not necessarily taking [ergonomics] into consideration,” Reinecke said. He encouraged nurses to speak up and to ask questions about available equipment before joining a hospital’s workforce.

The GMI survey highlights the difficulties full-time nurses face, not only in caring for patients but also dealing with poor staffing, increasing workloads, new equipment and the environment.

Sixty percent of the surveyed nurses worry that that their job is negatively impacting their overall health, with 76 percent reporting physical discomfort and 12 percent being injured on the job in the past year. Fifty-two percent suffered from back pain, 38 percent exhaustion and 33 percent a sore neck. Additionally, 64 percent of the surveyed nurses said they did not have sufficient training on how to protect themselves from injury.

These numbers are similar to those reported by the American Nursing Association. Its 2011 health study found 62 percent of nurses reported that the risk of developing a disabling musculoskeletal disorder was a top health and safety concern.

“Lifting and moving patients manually is a high-risk activity, resulting in significant musculoskeletal disorders among health care workers,” said Chris Winkelman, RN, PhD, CCRN, FCCM, associate professor and program director of the adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner program at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Reinecke reported that nurses spend 35 percent of their time on documentation. In the old days, they sat at the nursing station and the time charting gave them a break during which they were off their feet. Now, they often stand with a computer on wheels when documenting. If the stand is not properly adjusted to the right height, repeatedly hunching over will add to the nurse’s physical strain.

Twenty-two percent of the nurses surveyed said they are less friendly or engaging with their patients as a result of their physical discomfort, and 22 percent reported having to modify or limit their activity/movement on the job.

The nurses had several suggestions for improving their work environment. Additional staffing topped the list, with 54 percent saying that an increase in nursing staff would alleviate their workloads.  That can be a good sign for travel nurses, who are often called in to fill those staffing needs.

“An overwhelming 88 percent of nurses are concerned about their expanding workloads,” the Ergotron report stated.

Twenty-eight percent of the responding nurses would redesign the physical space in the patient rooms and units to better align with clinical workflow and patient needs, 28 percent would add a dedicated ergonomics team to help ensure equipment is supportive to staff, 25 percent would update the furniture at the nursing station, and 24 percent would update medical equipment and furniture in the patient room.

Winkelman recommended nurses follow established standards for safe patient handling and mobility to reduce injury. The American Nurses Association has published safe patient handling standards for settings across the continuum. The issue is a priority for the association.

In May, then ANA President Karen A. Daley, PhD, RN, FAAN, told approximately 50 congressional staff members that a successful safe patient handling and mobility program has the potential to increase patient safety and decrease staff injuries by as much as 95 percent, while increasing nurse retention and recruitment.

“In no other profession would we ask workers to lift 90 pounds or more without mechanical support--nurses and health professionals should not be the exception,” Daley said.

Many hospitals are letting nurses become more involved in selecting products to make lifting and charting more comfortable and safer. Some even let nurses try out the equipment before purchase, Reinecke said. Nurses should offer to participate.

One way that travel nurses can participate in their own safety is to ask questions before starting a new assignment. For instance, they can ask about the equipment available, whether there are lift teams and if the computers on wheels are adjustable.

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