Personnel Safety

On-the-Job Risks Faced by Nurses

It’s ironic but true. Health care is one of the most dangerous professions in this country. It’s also one of the largest, employing 18 million people and growing. Hospital workers experience about twice as many job-related illnesses and injuries as private industry workers.

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According to OSHA, more workers are injured in the healthcare and social assistance industry sector than any other. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants had the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorders of all occupations.

Nurses are at particular risk, according to the American Nurses Association (ANA), which represents more than 3.6 million registered nurses. In a survey of 13,000 health risk appraisal responses, the ANA concluded that their top concern is stress, with 82 percent citing it.

The respondents also noted unease about lifting and repositioning heavy loads (including patients and equipment), prolonged periods of standing, needlesticks, and workplace violence. More than half reported musculoskeletal pain while working. Other findings from the ANA research:

  • Up to half the nurses had been bullied at work.
  • Almost a quarter had been physically assaulted.
  • About 10 percent were concerned for their physical safety.

The ANA cites other “alarming trends for registered nurses and nursing students,” including an average body mass index (BMI) of 27.6, which is considered overweight; the fact that only 16 percent get the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables; and fewer than half get recommended amounts of exercise. According to the ANA, in every category except smoking, the health of nurses is worse than the health of average Americans. They have the fourth highest rate of injury and illness resulting in days away from work.

To address these and other risks, the ANA proclaimed 2017 The Year of the Healthy Nurse, with a healthy nurse described as one “who actively focuses on creating and maintaining a balance and synergy of physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, personal, and professional well-being.”

The year-long campaign features resources, webinars, challenges, and fitness programs that address the five indicators of wellness—rest, nutrition, physical activity, quality of life, and safety. Monthly areas of focus include cardiovascular health, workplace wellness, stress, sleep, work/life balance, mental health, and healthy eating.

The ANA has also launched Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation, a national movement designed to transform the health of the nation by improving the health of nurses. The idea is that nurses can be role models for good health. A healthy clinician is more likely to talk to patients about how to get and stay well and will be more credible in those conversations. The pillars of this initiative are physical activity, rest, nutrition, quality of life, and safety.

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