How to avoid the most common nurse injuries
Nursing has its hazards no matter where your job takes you—a hospital, an elderly care facility, a patient’s home or a clinic—and it’s important to remember to take care of yourself as well as you would your patient.
It’s easy to forget, but if you’re not well, you can’t help others.
Having an awareness of how easy it is to become injured is one of the best ways to prevent injury. Here are some common hazards to watch out for—and tips to overcome them.
- Who thinks of a paper cut as a nursing hazard? Yet minor cuts occur regularly and, if left untreated, they can become infected due to the amount of bacteria that a nurse is regularly exposed to on a daily basis in the hospital setting. Not only is an infection painful, but it’s also a nuisance. Wash the cut and apply a bandage so you can get back to work.
- Nurses handle sharp items every day, and handling such objects can become second nature. Common handling can sometimes result in careless handling. Keep a healthy respect for knives, needles, sutures and other sharp instruments. If handled carelessly in a rush, they can cause you—and even a patient—injury. If a cut is serious, seek help.
- The most important thing for a nurse to remember is that back injury is the most often reported injury. So it’s important to reinforce good body mechanics. As the saying goes: “Lift with your legs, not with your back.” And it’s true!
- Wrist sprains are also common. Exhaustion from typing, writing and lifting heavy objects can cause long-term injuries. Give yourself a quick hand massage, take a break or use an ice pack.
- Ankle and foot injuries are most often caused by shoes with a poor foundation. Good shoes are an absolute must for nurses. Walking on uneven surfaces or strain from running to handle emergency situations can worsen a bad shoe situation. Spending a few extra dollars on your footwear now could save you time and money later if you end up with an injury resulting from poor shoes. Just think of it as money you’ll never have to spend on business suits!
- You may think it’s silly, but how many of us have spilled coffee or hot foods on the job? Slow down when you’re trying to handle multiple situations at once and you’re holding hot items.
- The same applies for sterilizers and autoclaves with extremely hot surfaces—slow down. If you do get burned, depending on the extent of the injury, provide self-care by rinsing with cold water, applying ice, using antibacterial ointment and applying a bandage, or seek care from the professional staff. Follow hospital policy on work-related injuries if the injury is severe and you need medical attention.
- Take care with workplace machinery. A leaky device or a spill by a colleague who neglected to clean it up properly could cause caustic agents to harm you. Know where the MSDS book is so you have a quick reference to follow the best practice in case of an exposure. Call your safety officer if in doubt.
Ruth Waibel, RN, PhD, FACHE, is the interim dean of Chamberlain College of Nursing’s Phoenix campus. She spent seven years at Ohio University in Athens as an assistant professor, student advisor and program coordinator. She has also served as an adjunct faculty member at Old Dominion University School of Nursing in Norfolk, Va., and spent three years as a graduate research assistant for the Center for Pediatric Research of Children’s Health System & Eastern Virginia Medical School.
Waibel has served as the interim dean of Chamberlain College of Nursing’s St. Louis campus, and as the interim consultant for perioperative services at Golden Valley Memorial Hospital in Clinton, Mo. Her experience in acute care includes positions as director of perioperative services at Holzer Medical Center in Gallipolis, Ohio; assistant administrator of surgical services at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, Inc. in Norfolk; and corporate director of ambulatory services at Children’s Health System in Norfolk.
By Ruth Waibel