An Analysis of Job Safety for Nurses: How Hospitals Are Helping
Which of these workplaces do you think is most hazardous—hospitals, construction sites, or manufacturing plants? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hospital employees suffer more on-the-job injuries than any other occupation.*
Those at risk include orderlies, assistants, and nurses at all levels (including RNs) and those who are working toward or who already hold a BSN degree or master’s degree in nursing). Most of these injuries are musculoskeletal in nature and occur while lifting, repositioning, turning, and moving patients who have little to no mobility.
Further analysis of on-the-job nursing safety suggests that additional factors include the following:
69% of Americans are overweight or obese, putting even more strain on the nurses who care for them.†
An aging workforce means that many nurses may be older and more vulnerable to injury.
Insurance restrictions often require lower-risk individuals to have routine procedures performed at outpatient facilities, which raises the proportion of higher-risk—often less mobile—patients for nurses in traditional hospital settings. That, in turn, elevates risk for those nurses as well.
The Cost of Workplace Injuries for Nurses
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, costs associated with on-the-job nursing injuries include:‡
$2 billion: The nation’s annual workers’ compensation expense for hospitals.
$27,000–$103,000: The estimated cost of replacing a nursing employee.
$15,860: The average worker’s compensation claim for a hospital worker’s injury.
Most RNs who decide to pursue their Bachelor of Science in Nurshing (BSN) degree or seek a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) are already aware of the risks involved in their profession, and they’re teaming with their hospitals to implement safe patient handling programs that keep nursing employees and patients much safer.
These programs have the potential to save the hospitals millions of dollars in workers’ compensation, employee turnover costs, recruiting expenses, lost productivity, and insurance premiums. Safe patient handling programs also indicate that hospitals value their nurses’ safety, making it more likely employees will remain in the profession—and perhaps continue their learning process through an on-campus or online BSN or MSN degree program.
A typical safe handling program includes “minimal lift” policies and employee training, but primarily centers around the installation of new equipment, which might include:
Motorized, ceiling-mounted hoists that take on the burden of lifting and moving patients.‡
“Floating mattresses,” which use an air pump to help lift patients from beds to gurneys.
Power gurneys that are operated by the touch of a button.
U.S. State-Level Initiatives, Investments, and Savings
Currently, there are no federal hospital injury prevention mandates; however, 11 states have passed laws designed to help protect healthcare workers from injuries: California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington.
Additionally, a number of states are seeing cost savings through safe patient handling initiatives:*
- California: In a 5-year period, Stanford University Medical Center’s safe lifting program generated a net savings of $2.2 million.
- Florida: The Veterans Health Administration Patient Safety Center introduced safe patient handling programs in seven facilities and realized a new savings of $200,000 per year.
- Iowa: The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics reduced its 3-year workers’ compensation costs by more than $475,000 while simultaneously recovering its initial investment in safe patient handling.
- New Jersey: In just 30 months, Englewood Hospital and Medical Center reportedly exceeded the 155% return on investment goal it set for the hospital’s safe patient handling program.
- New York: Kaleida Health invested $2 million in its safe patient handling program and realized a full return on investment within 3 years. Four years later, the five hospitals in the network had saved a combined $6 million in patient handling injury costs.
- Oregon: Sacred Heart Medical Center saved $305,000 over a 2-year period when they installed lifts.
- Texas: Northwest Texas Healthcare System reportedly recouped the cost of its 3-year minimal lift policy in just 1 year.
With increased awareness, safe patient handling programs, new technology, and more visible success stories, nursing-related injury need no longer be an epidemic.
*Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Safe Patient Handling Programs, on the Internet at www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3279.pdf.
†Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FastStats: Obesity and Overweight, on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm.
‡Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Worker Safety in Your Hospital, on the Internet at www.osha.gov/dsg/hospitals/documents/1.1_Data_highlights_508.pdf.