Health injuries are very common in the nursing profession. If you’ve been on the job for even a short time, you’ve probably gotten sick or hurt at work. Most of these health injuries are minor, but some can balloon into acute or chronic problems.
Daily safety habits can make a big difference in your risk over the long term. Here are several common injuries and health problems that nurses can experience at work—along with tips for staying safer.
Wound infection is a constant concern in germ-laden healthcare settings. Needle sticks are just the most obvious risk category. Anything from a burn to a paper cut could put you at risk for infection. Even the bad habit of peeling at a ragged cuticle or touching open acne sores on your face is something to watch out for.
Solution: The best way to avoid cuts and burns is simply by being mindful of the tools you work with—from needles and scalpels to the hospital’s autoclave. Always assume an object that might be sharp or hot actually is and handle it with care. Keep even small cuts or sores disinfected and covered up at work.
This is a sneaky occupational injury because it takes a long time to develop. Plus, there can be lifestyle habits outside of work that contribute to the condition. If you spend most of the day at work standing and walking, that’s a potential cause. If you spend most of your time at home sitting, guess what? That’s another contributing factor. You just can’t seem to win with varicose veins.
Solution: Many nurses swear by compression hose for helping prevent leg vein problems. Wear it under your scrubs and no one has to know (it can also help hold in your tummy and hip fat, making you look slimmer). You can also do stretches and squats during your shift to help keep blood from pooling in your legs.
Nurses work in a setting where a war is constantly being waged against pathogens. This means you live around a lot of chemicals that are ostensibly used to fight disease and create a safer environment for everyone. Unfortunately, many of these substances can actually cause long-lasting harm to your health. These include cleaning and sterilizing agents, chemotherapy and antiretroviral drugs, gases used for anesthesia, latex and even commonly used hand disinfectants. Regular exposure to the various chemicals used in an average hospital has been linked to health injuries such as asthma, cancer, miscarriage and birth defects.
Solution: Ask to see the MSDS (material safety data sheet) for the chemicals you use or are exposed to on a daily basis. Your employer is required by law under OSHA regulations to provide you with this information promptly upon request. Then, evaluate how you handle these chemicals compared to the recommendations on the MSDS. Don’t hesitate to ask for additional PPE (personal protective equipment) if necessary to cut down on your exposure.
Sprains, Strains and Tears
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sprains, strains and tears are by far the most common nursing-related injuries. They fall into two main categories: overexertion and falls. Overexertion caused by lifting, turning or transferring bedridden patients often results in lower back injuries.
Solution: There are several ways to limit back strain from overexertion. If you have access to a lifting device and enough room to use it, that’s your best bet. Making lifting a two-person job is also a good idea. If you must do heavy lifting alone:
- Remember to keep your back straight
- Get as close to the patient as possible
- Avoid simultaneous twisting and bending
- Engage your abs
- Carry the weight with your thigh and calf muscles
For a very detailed and helpful analysis of strategies to help nurses reduce back injuries, check out this educational brochure from DIOSH (Cal/OSHA).
Slips and Falls
The second leading cause of nurse workplace injuries is slip-and-fall accidents. Most of these are same-level falls. In other words, nurses aren’t falling off platforms or down flights of stairs—they’re slipping or tripping on uneven or wet floors or falling into objects or equipment on a level surface.
Solution: Be sure to pick out a pair of nursing shoes with good traction to help you avoid slipping at work.
What safety tips help keep you safe on the job? Let us know in the comments section.