Adam Strizzi

According to the American Journal of Medical Quality, a shortage of registered nurses is expected to grow and reach all areas of the country by 2030.

One reason many people are leaving the profession is they find it too stressful, both emotionally and physically. As to the emotional reasons, many nurses report they are overworked. Many are upset by the shifts they must work and the frequent shift changes. Some report emotional stress that they might make a mistake or medical error that could end their career or result in a lawsuit. And for many, the very reason they went into nursing – to help people in need – is why they want out of nursing.

“We assume that people go into nursing because they are highly motived by helping others,” says study author Janette Dill, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at the University of Akron.  “But our findings suggest these nurses may be prone to burnout and other negative physical symptoms.”

And this leads us to the physical reasons why many nurses are stressed out and walking away – quite literally – from their profession. Nursing work is very simply “work that can be dangerous to your health,” especially your physical health.  According to surveys by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 35,000 back and other injuries among nursing employees every year, severe enough that they have to miss work.

While needle-stick injuries are still far too frequent and can be very serious, it is actually these back and other injuries, such as pain and injury to shoulders, legs, knees, and feet, that are proving to be the most physically draining for nurses as well as costly to healthcare facilities.  And these are directly related to why nurses are leaving their posts.

Pinpointing physical stress

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when, where, and why nurses first start developing pain and injuries to their shoulders, backs, legs, and feet. It may happen if they have to help patients out of their beds on a frequent basis or prop them up in order to help them move from one location to another. It may also begin if they frequently reach, lift, or move equipment during the course of their day.  Or it can happen simply because they must stand for long periods during the typical day.

In fact, standing for long periods of time throughout the day is a very common problem in the nursing profession, and according to an informal study reported in Dec. 2000, this was the top “trigger” for back pain or injuries while working.

However, while standing for long periods can be a top reason for physical pain and injuries, what nurses should remember is that most of these ailments are the result of “cumulative” trauma to the body.  This means that not one situation or activity – from lifting patients to continual standing – caused their injuries.  

To address this issue staff administrators and nurses must examine the ways they perform activities in the workplace and look for ways to help alleviate these triggers, as they have been referred to, that cause pain and injury. Additionally, it requires administrators to take a very close look at such things as nursing and work stations. One of the easiest ways to help reduce pain, injuries, as well as fatigue is to make these work areas more ergonomic, and it all begins with what’s on the floor: mats.

The foundation of an ergonomic nursing station

An ergonomic work station for nurses begins with the installation of anti-fatigue mats. Before we go further and discuss why anti-fatigue mats are so important, we need to better understand what ergonomics is about. When it comes to work, ergonomics is the scientific study of how we work. The goal is to help match the job to the worker rather than the worker, in this case a nurse, attempting to adjust to the job. The goal of ergonomics is to make the work environment healthier, safer, and less stressful which can also lead to enhanced staff morale, productivity, and for nurses specifically, minimize the reasons they leave their profession.

With that understood, now we must explain what anti-fatigue mats are. These are mats specially engineered to provide both a cushion and a bounce when stood on and walked upon. The combination of bounce and cushion increases body movement, disperses the worker’s weight more evenly over the surface, and helps improve blood flow and circulation. This helps reduce tension on the body which helps reduce injury and fatigue, two factors that can result in absenteeism and possibly nurses leaving their professions.

This concept was borne out in a study a few years ago. While it did not occur in a medical facility, a study of nearly 200 workers at a manufacturing facility found that before anti-fatigue matting was installed, daily absenteeism was more than 5 percent, up to 10 percent on Mondays. After the anti-fatigue mats were installed, absenteeism dropped to an average of 4 percent for all days.  There was also a drop in work-related injuries from more than three per month to less than one per month.

Before selecting anti-fatigue mats, administrators are advised to work with an astute distributor familiar with these types of mats. The mats can vary in quality, and at least one has a patented “foam” which has proven very effective at reducing pain and fatigue resulting from prolonged standing.  Along with quality, make sure enough matting is installed. Some nurses’ stations have a tendency to install small amounts of anti-fatigue matting. In some cases, it might best serve your nurses – and keep them healthy and on the job – if large sections of the work area have anti-fatigue mats installed. In this case, more and longer is better.

Adam Strizzi is marketing manager for Crown Matting Technologies, one of the largest and oldest matting companies in North America.  

1 American Journal of Medical Quality, May/June 2015

2 National Public Radio, Feb. 4, 2015; Hospitals Fail To Protect Nursing Staff From Becoming Patients

3 Bernice D. Owen, RN, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing, Madison, Wis.

*The study was conducted over a 12-month period. The manufacturer involved had an established workforce and did not implement procedural changes or other changes that could have affected the results.