December 8, 2015

How the Health of Healthcare Workers with Healthcare-Related MSDs Affects You in the Clinic and the Workforce

Ask yourself what the most common, costly, and preventable workplace injuries are. What comes to mind? Back sprain? Carpal Tunnel? Both of these fall under the category of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – the correct answer. Most jobs involve postures or movement that, without proper ergonomics, easily lead to chronic or acute pain. Certain jobs involving heavy labor, like construction or freight handling, put workers at a greater risk of injury. However, a more common, less obvious trade consistently ranks amongst the highest reported incidents of MSDs and MSDs involving missed work: nursing.

Nursing aids, orderlies and attendants – the very people helping others in pain – have sustained work-related MSDs as much as over seven times that of the national average for all other occupations. Simple tasks such as making beds demand constant bending and stretching, both of which contribute to chronic pain. Even more damaging is the frequent lifting, transferring, and repositioning of patients. In other jobs that require as frequent of lifting, the safe lift limit is as low as 35 pounds. Hospital patients typically weigh over 100. In an eight-hour shift, the cumulative weight a health care worker may have to lift is around 1.8 tons. No wonder there is a nursing shortage. Health care workers in short-staffed facilities are under even greater physical demand because they’re picking up the slack from missing staff. Hence, the cycle continues.

The resulting costs from work-related MSDs go beyond worker’s compensation. In support of The Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2009, the Coalition for Healthcare Worker and Patient Safety (CHAPS) stated that 38 percent of nurses suffer work-related back pain significant enough to require leave from work. Furthermore, 52 percent reported chronic back pain, and 1 in 3 nurses under the age of 30 plans to leave his or her job in the next year because of the physically demanding nature of the job. Even students suffer MSDs that impact their careers. Depending on how long a person stays in the field, when he or she leaves, not only is loss of income an issue, but also time and cost of education as well as medical care for lasting pain. In fact, nurses suffering from work-related MSDs may not even qualify for worker’s compensation, as often the disorder is the result of years of lifting and not one incidence.

Risk of injury extends to patients, as well. Healthcare workers performing physical tasks while in pain are more likely to cause harm to their patients. If a facility is short-staffed, patients may not even receive the attention that is necessary to heal.

Years of research and incidents involving healthcare-related MSDs have led to positive change. Legislation is no stranger to proposed bills that require implementation of safety training and lifting equipment in healthcare facilities Safe patient handling and movement concepts have been implemented into nursing school curriculum. Research on the investment return on safe handling equipment has also been positive. In 2007, researchers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality began an 18-month study on safe patient lifting programs. They reported that all direct and indirect costs associated with safe lifting programs were recouped in less than 5 years.

The ongoing initiatives to minimize work-related MSDs in the healthcare industry help pave the way for other manual material handling occupations. Safety training along with ergonomic improvements significantly reduce injury and related costs – costs to the employee, employer, and insurance companies. These solutions are both feasible and readily available. In an economy that cannot afford to further jeopardize the retention or recruitment of any job, these solutions couldn’t be more important.

Jacob Cummings is the National Sales Manager for PHS West, Inc. He has been with the company for 11 years. PHS West Inc manufactures customized motorized carts for a variety of applications including medical supply carts, linen carts, cart movers and endoscopy carts.

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