Workplace injuries, more specifically those that are related to musculoskeletal injuries, are fairly common among healthcare workers and nursing staff. In fact, nursing is ranked fifth among occupations that are most at risk for strains and sprains, and have the highest compensation claim rates as compared to other industries.

Several associated factors have been identified to have caused the high number of workplace injury cases in nursing. Some of them include repeated lifting, transferring, repositioning, as well as quick and forceful movements that are carried out by nurses when having to perform patient care activities. The risk of life-altering injuries in the profession has caused some nurses to eventually leave the career.

A recent study conducted among 660 Registered Nurses (RNs) in four public hospitals in Malaysia had shown that workplace related injuries in nursing was relatively high, with 88.6% of RNs experiencing symptoms of workplace related injuries in their lifetime whereas 71.3% experienced the symptoms in the past 12 months. Among the affected areas are the neck (48.9%), followed by feet (47.2%), upper back (40.7%) and shoulders (36.9%). In this study, less than 25% claimed that these workplace associated injuries have significantly impacted their quality of life.

Having taken into consideration that the carrying out of patient care activities is inevitable for all nurses, here we will look at five strategies for you to avoid having work related musculoskeletal injuries.

Embrace patient handling technologies

The use of assistive devices and continued use of proper body mechanics can significantly reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommended that manual lifting of patients be minimised in all cases and eliminated when feasible.

Know your patient dependency level

Towards the end of every shift, you must ensure that all essential patient information, especially patient mobility status, is communicated to the nurse taking over during the next shift. Additionally, if a new patient is being admitted, you may highlight important details to other nurses who are responsible for him, such as his height and weight, age, risk for falling, as well as any specific nursing care needs such as hourly repositioning and transferring.

Also, you can find out if the patient requires mobility equipment at any point during the previous shift or hospital stay. To select the most appropriate assistive devices of equipment, nurses must first determine the patient dependency level. What you will need to do is to assess the patient’s ability to walk as well as upper and lower extremity strength. You must also be aware of any specific orders from physicians. Once you know your patient’s physical abilities, it will be easier for you to start choosing the right devices that you can use in patient care.

Become familiar with your facility’s safe patient handling equipment

Each nursing unit will be occupied with assistive and safety devices for nurses to use when handling patients. Some patient-handling equipment and devices that can be found in nursing departments are height-adjustable beds, ceiling-mounted lifts, friction-reducing slide sheets and air-assisted devices.

These built-in safety devices are provided with the aim of reducing nurses’ muscular strain when handling patients. Hence, you need to familiarise yourself with the usage of these devices; you can also consider how each device can be used in the most appropriate manner with regards to patients’ physical abilities and device function. Other devices such as overhead ceiling lifts and hydraulic lifts are meant to assist patients who are physically unable to move themselves.

Remember basic physics

In emergency situations where a nurse is required to move patients without assistive devices, there are some basic principles that you can follow. When you have to lift a patient from a bed to chair, keep your back, neck, pelvis and feet alligned as this reduces the risk of injury to the lumbar vertebrae. Also, ensure that your knees are flexed and that your feet are wide apart as a broad base of support increases stability.

Essentially, imperative preventive interventions are needed to avert the hazards and economic burdens that are associated with patient-handling tasks. For nurses, the key to preventing injuries is to utilise the patient-handling devices provided, know your healthcare facility’s safety information and making proper use of the lifting guidelines for back safety. Perhaps by implementing the strategies above, these occupational health hazards associated with nursing can be prevented. MIMS

Read more: 
Nurses, be cautious: Workplace hazards in healthcare institutions in Singapore
Nurses: Know your occupational hazards and minimise your exposure
4 ways for nurses to maintain clinical competency

Sources: Toolkits/FactSheet.html injuries/