Focus on preventing nurse injuries starting to pay off for early adopters

Amid efforts to protect nurses from workplace injuries, some hospitals say they have made encouraging progress, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In February, a report from National Public Radio found hospitals must do more to protect nursing staff from injuries on the job, with nurses suffering more musculoskeletal injuries than construction workers. The primary cause of these injuries is lifting or moving patients, and a later investigation found state laws and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations did little to protect nurses.

The investigations were a wakeup call to the regulatory sector; in June, OSHA announced a new initiative that would levy penalties of up to $70,000 against hospitals that did not protect nurses from these injuries. Eleven states, including Missouri, were at an advantage, since they already require facilities to safeguard against injuries with strategies and equipment such as patient lifts and workplace protocols for patient handling, according to the Post-Dispatch.

Missouri's Mercy Hospital Springfield was even further ahead of the curve, when staff complaints led them to implement a series of anti-injury measures such as patient-lifting technology.

Six months later, the hospital appointed Karin Garrett, the nurse who lodged the initial complaint, to develop a hospital-wide patient handling program. After injuries fell 70 percent, the program was expanded to all of Mercy's 35 hospitals across four states. In the last three years, patient handling injuries are down nearly 24 percent, according to the article.

BJC HealthCare and SSM, both based in St. Louis, have invested in similar solutions, adding patient-moving equipment and tracking injuries. Patient-handling injuries are down 33 percent at BJC, while lost workdays as a result of those injuries are down 43 percent. "The [state] rule really heightened our awareness again and got more action and people thinking," Sandy Swan, occupational health manager at BJC Learning Institute, told the Post-Dispatch. "With that plus the OSHA announcement, the word is out."

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