Government, hospitals fail to protect nurses from workplace injuries

Despite the epidemic of workplace injuries and stress-related burnout that nurses experience, they often receive little to no help from hospital leaders to address the problem--and healthcare facilities aren't the only ones that don't adequately protect the nation's frontline clinical workers.

Government regulators, in particular the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), have failed time and again to crack down on hospitals to prevent workplace injuries among nurses, NPR reports. The first major attempt occurred in 2000, when OSHA tried to issue a rule that required all major companies to redesign their workplaces if multiple employees suffered ergonomic injuries while doing the same job. After business leaders mounted a successful campaign against the rule, however, Congress blocked the proposed regulations, according to NPR.

Fifteen years later, OSHA still wields little regulatory power thanks to a series of restrictive court rulings, David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the organization, told NPR. The only way to effect change at the national level, then, would be to encourage Congress to act, he said.

"There's no question, a national law requiring protection in hospitals would protect workers and would result in the reduction in musculoskeletal injuries in hospitals," he said.

Knowing this, nurse advocacy groups have campaigned for laws on a state or local level, but the measures face an uphill battle in state legislatures, as some lawmakers see them as an unnecessary burden on a healthcare industry that already faces regulation overload.

And while 10 states have managed to pass laws that require hospitals to prevent injuries to healthcare workers caused by lifting patients, many of the regulations may not actually do much to protect nurses. In Washington, for example, which boasts some of the strongest nurse-protection laws, a state official told NPR that "we don't have the money and we don't have the resources" to conduct inspections to ensure hospitals comply with the law.

As for hospital themselves, many facilities' efforts to train nurses in a method known as "body mechanics" belies the evidence that the only safe way to lift patients is through specially designed equipment and machines, FierceHealthcare has reported.

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