As a nurse, you dedicate your days to serving patients and protecting them from harm. Hospitals and outpatient facilities place great emphasis on patient safety-and for good reason. However, as you take care of your patients, you also have to take care of yourself. Nurses have physically demanding jobs, and as such, they have a high risk of workplace injury. To protect yourself on the job, you need to know the most common on-the-job injuries for nurses and ways you and your employer can work to prevent them.
InfectionsBy definition, nurses deal with sick people. When you work in close quarters with a variety of illnesses, you can expect to end up catching a few of them. However, nurses have a right to be protected against illnesses much more serious than the common cold. Employers should train their nurses to use proper hand hygiene and wear appropriate protective clothing when dealing with dangerous illnesses. You are also never too busy to take the proper precautions when caring for patients with influenza, tuberculosis, and in recent cases, Ebola.
Slip and FallsNurses encounter slippery situations every day. When you deal with bodily fluids for a living, there are bound to be some spills. At work, you often don't see these hazards coming. In the midst of a high-pressure health crisis, you might not see that puddle before you step in it. You can reduce your risk of slipping and falling by wearing appropriate footwear and developing good observation habits. Before you run down a hall or into a room, take a quick scan of the floor. This only takes half a second and could save you a lifetime of pain.
Back InjuriesBack, leg, and spine injuries are commonplace among nurses. Even if you use proper body mechanics to lift, turn, and move patients, you still put your back on the line every day. Employers should make assistive lifting tools easily accessible to the nursing staff. You should rely on these devices as much as possible to avoid hurting yourself while helping patients. Employers should also train nurses to minimize their risk of injuries through proper lifting techniques.
Hazardous DrugsWhen you administer various drugs to patients, you sometimes end up exposed to them yourself. Many drugs are inherently poisonous and can pose threats to people who don't need to take them. For example, most chemotherapy drugs are known toxins. The American Nurse (http://www.theamericannurse.org/index.php/2012/04/02/hazardous-conditions/) also reported recently about a study that linked miscarriages among nurses to exposure from sterilizing chemicals and antineoplastic drugs. Nurses should always know the potential risks of the drugs they have to handle and should receive proper training on how to protect themselves.
Needle SticksEvery time you administer an injection, you put yourself at risk for a needle stick. Even a tiny prick can expose you to many dangerous bloodborne pathogens, including hepatitis and HIV. These incidents happen most often in surgical situations and when nurses have a heavy workload. Employers should already have practices in place to help prevent and treat needle stick injuries. However, your workplace should also have adequate staffing and reasonable patient loads to reduce the threat.
Dangerous ChemicalsAs hospitals work to prevent the spread of infection, they often turn to harsher and harsher cleaning chemicals. When cleaning staff apply these chemicals all throughout the building, nurses often face long-term exposure. Employers should work to find substitutes for hazardous cleaning chemicals. As a nurse, you should also be aware of what cleaning products your janitorial staff uses and how to avoid them if you can.
RadiationRadiation and X-rays can both help and hurt people. Although these technologies benefit patients, they can put nurses in harm's way. When you have to perform X-rays or work with machines such as lasers, you have the potential for radiation exposure. Employers must train their nursing staff on how to safely work with radioactive materials and machinery. Nurses should always have access to the proper protective gear and be able to follow safety procedures.
Violent PatientsThrough your daily work, you will likely encounter unpredictable patients with unstable tempers. Emergency nurses in particular face a constant threat of physical abuse from violent patients they are trying to treat. Even otherwise well-meaning patients can unintentionally injure nurses when they're in the throes of intense pain or stress. Although violence is often unpredictable, as a nurse, you should know how to watch out for warning signs. Employers should also implement prevention programs and train their nurses on how to respond to patient violence. Important factors that can contribute to patient violence include:
- Long wait times
- Delays receiving pain medication
- Slow transfers of mental health patients