Report: Healthcare workers face highest risk of musculoskeletal injury

Lifting patients puts nurses at risk for suffering musculoskeletal injuries, and employer best practices are often not enough to prevent these injuries.

Healthcare workers in Staten Island face numerous distinct job-related risks. Some of the most well-known hazards include patient attacks, repetitive strains and exposure to pathogens, diseases or chemicals. Unfortunately, these professionals also face a high risk of musculoskeletal injuries, such as back and neck injuries.

In 2010, the healthcare industry had one of the highest injury and illness rates of any industry. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nursing aides, orderlies and attendants suffered more musculoskeletal injuries than any other professionals. Injuries that occur when these workers are lifting patients may be especially common. Unfortunately, reports indicate that many healthcare employers fail to mitigate this threat.

Inadequate preventative measures

National Public Radio recently reported that musculoskeletal injuries remain a risk even when nursing professionals use employer-endorsed lifting techniques. This is due to the following factors:

  • Some patients are too heavy to lift, even with safe techniques. This problem has become more prevalent as obesity rates have increased in the U.S.
  • Nurses often stand to the side of the hospital bed when lifting patients. This is a relatively large distance to lift over. The associated strain would be less if nurses could perform lifts while standing closer to patients.
  • Nurses frequently must bend to lift patients. This positioning increases forces on spinal disks. In contrast, lifting from a straight position places force on spinal joints that are designed to withstand this force.

Even group lifts may put healthcare professionals at risk. Since weight is never distributed perfectly in a group lift, these maneuvers can introduce unusual stresses. In some cases, professionals even face a greater risk of injury when performing group lifts. Overall, experts note that the only safe way nurses can lift patients is with the use of machinery. Unfortunately, due to budget issues, many hospitals lack this equipment.

Recourse for workplace injuries

Healthcare professionals may suffer from injuries that occur suddenly or due to repetitive stress. Many back injuries may occur gradually, as damage near the spinal disks results in scarring, nutrient loss and eventual disk collapse. Either way, these injuries often necessitate medical attention, time off from work and even invasive treatments, such as surgery. Fortunately, workers who suffer from these injuries may qualify for workers' compensation benefits.

In New York, an injury that occurs in the course of a worker's job duties is considered work-related. The fault of the worker or employer has no effect on a workers' compensation claim. A work-related injury may be compensable if it is not intentionally self-inflicted or drug-related. Given these criteria, the injuries that healthcare workers suffer may qualify for benefits.

Challenges of securing compensation

Unfortunately, proving that an injury is work-related may be challenging for healthcare employees. NPR cites the story of one nurse who injured her back lifting a patient. She hurt her back two more times within a two-week period and eventually required surgery. The woman's employer's medical staff found that the injury was work-related. However, the employer refused to provide compensation for the nurse's medical expenses or lost wages.

Given these potential challenges in securing compensation, healthcare workers facing work-related injuries may benefit from seeking legal assistance. A workers' compensation attorney may be able to help a worker understand his or her rights during the claim process. An attorney also may be able to assist an injured worker in properly documenting his or her claim.

Keywords: job-related, workplace, injury, hospital, nurse