Healthcare workers exist in a hazardous industry. . . Let's just say statistics show that it is more hazardous to work in a hospital than to build one. Injury rates for direct care workers are some of the highest in the country. In 2016, the injury rate per 10,000 workers was 337 for nursing assistants and 144 injuries among personal care aides. To put this in perspective the national average for injuries per 10,000 is 100, showing you just how much injury risk healthcare workers face on any given day.
For nurses specifically, overexertion injuries are one of the main causes of missed workdays among healthcare workers. A report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that overexertion is the number one cause of injury resulting in around 40% of all non-fatal injuries in healthcare facilities for both private and local government hospitals. Ergonomics is extremely important to help lower the risks of overexertion injuries in the workplace. And, with the right gameplan, these can be successfully prevented. Healthcare workers deserve the best resources for the life-saving work they perform daily. Let's look at a few ways healthcare organizations can implement ergonomic practices to keep their healthcare workers safe.
Top Ergonomic Strategies for Healthcare Workers
Safe patient handling, smart equipment transfer techniques, and stress relief are three important ways healthcare organizations can address overexertion injuries that keep nurses away from serving the patients they care about. Each strategy below is tailored to help nursing staff maneuver around just a few hazards that exist in their normal working environments.
Safe Patient Handling
A nurse's main mission is to serve others; this requires handling patients on a frequent and consistent basis. These tasks can be physically demanding, and if not monitored properly can lead to overexertion injuries like back pain and muscle strains. Patient handling practices should be a part of any healthcare ergonomics program, teaching direct care workers how to properly move, manipulate, and transfer patients in a manner that is safe for both parties. A few examples of safe patient handling techniques include:
- Training staff to avoid awkward postures such as twisting while lifting, which can lead to injury
- Using assist devices (e.g. patient lift systems) lowers the physical demands placed on the direct care worker
- Creating a "lift team" which is a dedicated group whose job is to travel around the facility with lifting equipment and helpful hands
Lower Stress, Lower Risk
With all the focus on physical stress to direct care workers, sometimes mental stress takes a back seat. Mental health has finally become a major topic in our country, shining light on how mental stress can play a major role in contributing to workplace injuries. A report from the Institute of Medicine stated there is evidence that stress related to work overload (e.g. staffing patterns), including shift work, can and does contribute to illness and injury in the nurse population.
This report confirms the interconnection between mental health and the development of ergonomic and/or overexertion injuries. Mental stress relief practices should be a part of any healthcare organization’s wellness program. These programs decrease employee stress levels, and in turn, proactively decrease injury risks positively impacting the entire organization. A few easy strategies to help lower workplace stress include:
- Start a walking club within the office to encourage staff to take a break and de-stress.
- Offer yoga or meditation classes for staff to get a break from their work environment and promote mental health at the same time.
- Create a positive work culture where employees are engaged and happy in their work. This keeps stress low as a positive environment yields happier staff.
- Make mental health resources available and promote them. Include counseling and physician visits in healthcare coverage. Create employee assistance programs and make staff easily available. Promote community mental health resources as well.
Be Smart When Transferring Equipment
Besides moving patients on a frequent basis, nurses are also tasked with transferring medical equipment around the facility from medicine carts to patient beds. If improper techniques are used this can lead to the development of ergonomic/overexertion injuries. As with patient handling, proper measures should be taken to lower the risk of injury and promote safe work practices. A few examples of proper equipment transfer techniques include the following:
- Ensure walkways are free of hazards; this will lower the number of evasive maneuvers required to transfer equipment from one place to another.
- Coach push vs.pull when it comes to equipment and patients. Pushing is a better movement as it uses the worker’s own body weight as leverage, versus pulling which requires higher energy exertion. Pulling can often lead to ergonomic injuries.
- Management should hold frequent education and training seminars with healthcare staff. Regular review of proper ways to maneuver equipment helps lower the risk of ergonomic-related injuries developing over time.
Ergonomic injuries have an all too close relationship with the healthcare industry. With a few simple strategies, healthcare organizations can be on their way to a safer and healthier work environment. Let’s keep our brave healthcare workers free from the risk of ergonomic injuries and focused on helping our community in the times they need it the most.