Workplace danger: Nursing assistants suffer more physical injuries than construction workers

Hospitals must do more to protect nursing staff, who suffer more workplace musculoskeletal injuries than those in intensely physical industries such as construction, due in large part to the strain of lifting patients, NPR reports.

Nursing assistants suffer the most injuries of any profession, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), ahead of police, correctional officers, truckers and repair workers. In terms of injuries per 10,000 full-time employees, nursing assistants and orderlies each suffer musculoskeletal injuries at about triple the rate of construction laborers. In 2010, the healthcare industry overall reported 600,000 workplace injuries, more than any other occupation. Workplace injuries cost the healthcare system $3.1 billion in 2011.

The BLS disclosed the rates, which are due mostly to the strain of moving patients, in 2006, according to the article, but further investigation by NPR discovered that research on the dangers of traditional methods of moving patients goes back decades. "The bottom line is, there's no safe way to lift a patient manually," William Marras, director of The Ohio State University's Spine Research Institute, told NPR. "The magnitude of these forces that are on your spine are so large that the best body mechanics in the world are not going to keep you from getting a back problem."

Providers such as Florida's Baptist Health System and some Department of Veterans Affairs facilities have transitioned to a different approach, using special machines to lift patients, according to the article. This "special patient handling" method has reduced lifting injuries up to 80 percent, according to hospital officials, but far too few organizations have implemented it, Carla Luggiero, the American Hospital Association's chief lobbyist, told NPR. San Francisco's UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay has similarly reduced injuries by introducing robots to carry food, medication and blood samples.

Other providers believe improving nurse fitness can help prevent such injuries, according to WRVO. A pilot program at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York, aims to help nurses establish exercise and physical therapy routines to reduce the likelihood of such injuries. "[W]e're really trying to be proactive and come up with all sort of new programs to be able to help staff," Chief Nursing Officer Patricia Witzel told WRVO.

To learn more:
- here's the NPR article
- read the BLS statistics
- check out the WRVO article