Common Workplace Threats to Nurses & Healthcare Workers

3 healthcare professionals standing and talking to one another

Nurses and other healthcare workers face a number of serious occupational health and safety hazards. In fact, according to an OSHA report from 2015, the rate of workplace injuries and illnesses (those which resulted in the injured worker needing to take time off to recover or recuperate) was four times higher in the healthcare industry than in the private industry.


From strains, sprains, and burnout to more serious, long-term physical and psychological conditions, nurses represent one of the most at-risk populations when it comes to workplace injuries and illnesses. Not only does this take a toll on the nurses themselves, but it also comes at a significant cost to employers. Workers’ compensation represents a total annual expense of $2 billion for hospitals nationwide.


This article will cover the most common workplace hazards in nursing and discuss how healthcare institutions can implement prevention programs to help protect their workers and minimize occupational injuries.


ethnic woman putting on a pair of medical gloves

Nurses are an essential part of any healthcare team. They collaborate with doctors, physicians’ assistants, administrative staff, and other professionals to deliver comprehensive care in a variety of settings, from hospitals and ambulances to private homes and assisted living facilities. Unfortunately, due to the nature of their work, nurses are exposed to a variety of occupational hazards. These can range from overexertion and minor sprains to chronic musculoskeletal conditions and long-term psychological trauma.

1) Physical Assaults

Sadly, one of the most common causes of workplace injury to nurses is physical violence at the hands of their patients. Nurses often come into contact with people who are scared, agitated, confused, mentally ill, or under the influence of mood-altering substances. According to the American Nurses Association, 1 in 4 nurses has been physically assaulted by a patient.


Most often, these attacks happen in the form of hitting, shoving, pushing, punching, kicking, scratching, or spitting, but more extreme incidents have been recorded. Not only do these assaults pose a risk to nurses’ physical safety, but they also affect their psychological well-being as well.

2) Verbal Abuse

It’s easy to underestimate the impact of verbal abuse if you’ve never been exposed to it, but it represents a very real threat to workplace safety and wellbeing among nurses. Profane and derogatory language, especially when it occurs frequently over time, can cause feelings of fear, stress, frustration, anxiety, shame, anger, and depression. In addition, verbal assault is often a predictor of imminent physical assault, particularly if the person has a history of violence or drug abuse.


A recent study found that verbal abuse of nurses poses a serious threat to hospitals and patients, in addition to the nurses themselves. When nurses are subjected to frequent verbal abuse, they tend to be less satisfied with their jobs, more likely to miss work due to stress, and the quality of care they provide to patients may even suffer.

3) Exhaustion & Burnout

Nurses often work very long, unconventional hours. In many cases, they’re on their feet – standing, walking, running, lifting/moving patients, bending over, squatting, and working in awkward or uncomfortable positions for much of their shifts. This can lead to a variety of musculoskeletal issues, chronic pain, and fatigue.


In addition, they may be exposed to highly stressful situations which require their full attention and focus. Depending on the setting in which they work, nurses may also bear witness to extremely distressing and harrowing events, which can lead to PTSD or other psychological trauma responses. As a result, nurses often suffer from symptoms related to physical and emotional exhaustion, overexertion, and burnout.

4) Exposure to Infectious Diseases & Other Hazards

Healthcare workers may be exposed to infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B, tuberculosis, MRSA, HIV, measles, mumps, rubella, and influenza while on the job. In addition, extended exposure to certain hazardous chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and radiation, which are often present in healthcare settings, can contribute to serious medical issues like asthma, cancer, miscarriages, and birth defects. Dermatitis and latex allergies can also be severe enough to necessitate time off for nurses and other healthcare workers.


nurse wearing a mask speaking to a patient

While it’s impossible to completely eliminate the occupational hazards nurses face while working in hospitals and other healthcare settings, there are steps employers can take to mitigate risk factors and reduce the likelihood of nurses becoming injured or ill while at work.


OSHA has issued detailed guidelines for preventing violence against healthcare workers and has published several other resources aimed at helping employers develop programs to prevent injury in nurses. Prevention programs should be clear, specific, and detailed in writing. An effective program should include the following building blocks:


  • Management commitment
  • Worker participation
  • Worksite analysis
  • Hazard control and prevention
  • Health and safety training
  • Recordkeeping and program evaluation



male african american pediatrician treating a toddler

When you suffer a workplace injury or illness, it’s easy to feel neglected and alone; but you’re not. The attorneys at Ransom, Gilbertson, Martin, & Ratliff, LLP are on your side. We’re here to help and we have the experience, knowledge, and expertise to help you with workers compensation and fight for the compensation you deserve.


Whether you’ve suffered a back injury from lifting and repositioning patients or heavy equipment or you’re struggling with psychological trauma from physical or verbal abuse, you’re entitled to treatment and time off so you can heal and recuperate. We don’t charge for consultations and we don’t take anything unless you win your case. Get in touch today to tell us about your case.


Adian Martin

Adian Martin (JD) is an accomplished attorney with over 25 years of experience. His goal is to use his legal expertise and passion for problem-solving to help people get the benefits and proper compensation they deserve after an injury. He received his law degree from Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College and is currently a partner at Ransom Gilbertson Martin & Ratliff. In his spare time, Adian enjoys exploring the outdoors with his dog and bicycling.

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