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Our Hospital Heroes Need Help! - Ergonomic Improvements That Keep Nurses Saving Lives

December 5, 2019
June 21, 2023
nurses walking in hallway

Nurses play a vital role in the U.S. healthcare industry. These heroes, who work tirelessly to serve others, can experience an increased risk of injuries themselves. Constant walking, bending, lifting of patients, and working around sharp objects (e.g. needles) provide plenty of consistent hazards. In 2016, the injury incident rate for nurses was 104.2 cases per 10,000 full-time workers, which is significantly higher than the 91.7 cases per 10,000 rate for all occupations.The same report found that 45.6% of total injuries were related to overexertion.  With such increased risk, then, healthcare organizations must meet this challenge head-on to reduce workers’ compensation expenses and keep our heroes safe. A proactive approach to safety measures, ergonomic interventions and a solid injury prevention program are vital for the nursing workforce.

Repetitive, overexertion injuries are the main driver of nursing staff injuries, and have the potential to sideline nurses for an extended period of time. To prevent these ergonomic related injuries, a simple approach can yield great results.. Below are some action items you can immediately employ: 

Let Your Nursing Staff Loosen Up

Nurses’ workloads  can fluctuate rapidly at any given time. The physical demands can daily range from mild to extreme. To keep healthcare employees in the proper condition and ready for anything, implement a Pre-Work Warm-Up. Like a baseball player warming up before a major league game, nurses should also follow suit to ensure their entire body is warmed up before starting a long shift. A Pre-Work Warm-Up has several benefits: It helps increase blood flow; makes muscles more pliable and ready for work; decreases risk of injury; and prepares you mentally for the day. A good warm-up only takes a few minutes and should include active movement.  Here are a couple of suggestions to incorporate and help our healthcare heroes prepare for their work: 

neck rolls exercise
Neck Rolls

Bring chin to chest, then gently roll from side to side toward each shoulder. Repeat 5 times each.

backstroke exercise

Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Circle one arm backward, alternate arms continuously. Repeat 5 times each.

field goal exercise
Field Goal to Forward Drive

Bring elbows to chest level with elbows bent. (Feel the stretch in the chest area.) Then move hands in front while reaching. (Feel the stretch in the upper back.) Repeat both positions, back and forth, 5 times.

squats exercise

Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Slowly squat down, keeping weight on heels. Repeat 10 times.

Stretch Out to Fight Fatigue

 A stretching plan for before, during and after shifts can also go a long way in decreasing the risk of ergonomic and overexertion injuries to staff. Stretching restores the effective length of the muscle and helps decrease fatigue. Get even more proactive by offering stretching or yoga classes to employees.  A further recommendation would be for healthcare organizations to include yoga and other stretching practices as benefits for nurses to provide additional resources for ergonomic injury prevention. Here are three valuable stretches that should be included in any nurses’ injury prevention program: 

chest peck stretch
Chest/Pec Stretch

Place hand on wall, elbow slightly bent. Turn body away from wall to feel a stretch in your chest. Hold 15-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.

hamstring stretch
Hamstring Stretch

Standing up straight, extend leg in front, resting heel on floor. Bend opposite knee and sit back to feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Lean chest forward, keeping back straight to deepen the stretch. Hold 15-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.

calf stretch
Calf Stretch

Put the ball of your foot on the wall (or other stationary object), keep heel on the floor, lean hips towards wall to feel a stretch in your calf. Hold 15-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.

Safe Patient Handling

The constant demand of patient handling  comes with its own injury risks. Nurses and nursing assistants are tasked with turning patients while they’re lying down, as well as assisting them with ambulation, bathing and getting in and out of hospital beds. These may seem like innocuous tasks but can come with a high injury risk if healthcare staff are not careful and cognizant of the tasks at hand. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published an ergonomics assessment tool which can be used to calculate the recommended weight limit for two-handed manual lifting tasks. 

The report outlines a general guideline stating nurses should seek secondary assistance when the weight being lifted exceeds 35 lbs. However, this is not a global standard as patient factors (e.g. patient weight, cooperation of patient, proximity to the patient, etc.) may increase the amount a nurse is able to lift without assistance. Healthcare organizations should use the NIOSH ergonomic assessment tool to help educate nurses on situational awareness and better promote appropriate safe patient handling choices. The right lifting assistance can significantly lower the risk of ergonomic injuries such as lower back strain. 

Take a Chill Pill

Figuratively, not literally of course. Nurses have one of the most physically demanding jobs out there and adequate rest is one of the best solutions. Sometimes a little common sense can be the best remedy when it comes to ergonomic injury prevention. Healthcare employers should introduce break policies allowing nurses to take a minute to rest, stretch, and chill out to avoid overexerting their bodies to the point of injury.  Also, encourage breaking up tasks between standing/walking/lifting and sitting. For example, advise nurses to complete computer tasks or charting for a few minutes each hour to offer the opportunity to sit and rest. Don’t forget the importance of good posture, though!  

Remember, too, that good sleep is fundamental. This is especially true when the majority of nurses work long shifts that often include early morning and late night hours. Wellness programming for healthcare staff helps take a holistic approach to decreasing overexertion injuries. Share some of these  tips for deeper sleep: 

  • A good mattress and pillow are essential. Invest in supportive pillows that hold the head in neutral position. (Pillows should be a little thinner for sleeping supine (on your back) and thicker for side sleeper. 
  • Use room-darkening shades and eye pillows to cut the light.  
  • Avoid blue light from electronics an hour before bedtime (TV, phone, iPad, etc.)  

Wrapping Up

Nurses play a vital role in our community, helping patients in their times of need and assisting them back to good health. However, these heroes are at a higher risk of injury due to the demanding work environment they live in day in and day out. With just a few simple tips healthcare organizations can lower ergonomic injury risk, decrease workers' compensation costs and send a message that it’s nurses are valued!  

If your healthcare organization needs assistance when it comes to workplace injury prevention, please contact Work-Fit to see how our services can help your company today!


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