I’d like to propose a suggestion for a fun party trick. Ask those around you which profession was more dangerous in terms of injuries in 2012: Mining, forestry and logging, or working in a nursing home.
Those in the industry, of course, know the answer: Last year, the rate of incidences and numbers of nonfatal occupational injuries was 7.3%, with 176,600 cases. That’s far higher than mining (2.7%), traditionally an occupation where men regularly lost their lives underground, or forestry and logging (3.9%), which, just to clarify, involves taking down big large dangerous objects that are also known as trees.
So why is it acceptable for workers like Virginia Gillispie, CNS, ND, RN-BC, to suffer from cumulative spinal trauma from lifting patients at a long-term care facility?
“I was lifting and moving these patients by myself, putting both the patients and myself at risk,” said Gillispie, in an American Nurses Association note upon the organization’s introduction of “Safe Patient Handling and Mobility: Interprofessional National Standards.” “My injuries from that time still impact my life today.”
Apart from the ethical obligation to keep long-term care workers safe — which means not asking them to manually lift residents — this is another example of long-term care hoping that the government or lawmakers won’t notice an industry problem. That ship sailed when Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) introduced H.R. 2480, The Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2013. While that bill never made it out of committee this year, I’d wager the issue will be revisited, if for no other reason than the ANA is not going to let it go.
In their Health and Safety Survey, 62% of more than 4,600 nurses who responded indicated that suffering a disabling musculoskeletal injury was one of their top three safety concerns, and more than half experienced musculoskeletal pain “that was caused or made worse by their job in a 12-month period.”
Finally, there’s the bottom line with worker injury: Money. When there are safe patient handling technology, equipment, devices and practices, there are fewer lost workdays due to injury and a reduced rate of staff turnover. Let’s not also forget about the lawsuits involved when employees are lifting a resident and drop him or her.
Encourage administrators and DONs to think ahead about the time it takes to put the resident into a lift and to be cautious in slippery area. Find the money to put in handrails, lifts, adjustable sinks and other safety devices. Time and money are in short supply in the day-to-day lives of long-term care decision makers. But this is truly an area where more prevention will pay off in healthier, committed employees.
Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight’s. Follow her @TigerELN.