The Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) compared the numbers of back and musculoskeletal injuries reported by several industries. It was determined that the highest number of injuries was suffered by nursing assistants and hospital orderlies. Prior to 2012, injured hospital workers enjoyed very little protection against workers' injuries. On Jan. 1 of that year, the Hospital Patient and Health Care Worker Injury Protection Act became effective in California and included a requirement for hospitals to take measures to prevent staff from suffering injuries while lifting patients.
The daily tasks of nursing staff require them to do much more than monitoring vitals and hooking up IVs, but also the physically taxing tasks of turning and lifting patients. For this reason, it may not be surprising BLS found that musculoskeletal and back injuries are suffered by over 35,000 hospital workers per year. Reportedly, the increasing number of obese patients in the hospitals is a contributing factor to these statistics.
In order to avoid bed sores, nursing staff have to turn patients several times a day, and some patients may have to spend some time in a chair as part of the recovery process. Many of these patients weigh between 300 and 400 pounds, and even when four staff members try to turn them or lift them out of bed and back again later, severe injuries can be suffered. It was reported by one nurse that she typically has to carry out such tasks between 15 and 20 times per shift.
Immediately after the Act became effective, nursing staff at a California hospital started filing claims that led to a meeting between a Cal/OSHA investigator and the nurses union. This was followed by an order against the hospital, issued by a state Administrative Law Judge, finding that it failed to provide sufficient available staff when patients had to be lifted. The hospital was ordered to ensure the availability and easy access of equipment designed to lift patients, and provide proper training in operating such equipment. Many workers' injuries that involve back and musculoskeletal injuries cause ongoing pain and years of medical treatment. Injured workers may pursue workers' compensation benefit claims, and when permanent or partial disability is present, additional benefits may be added to the medical expenses and lost wages that are typically covered.
Source: mprnews.org, "Hospitals fail to protect nursing staff from becoming patients", Daniel Zwerdling, Feb. 4, 2015