Nursing Is One of the Most Dangerous Jobs in America: How Can We Change That?
When we fall ill, we rely upon medical care professionals for assistance, and this often means one or several nurses are involved in our care. Nurses hold our hands when we are weak and afraid. They often cry with us when they deliver unpleasant news, and frequently also share our elation when we begin to mend.
For all they do, nurses deserve more on-the-job protections. But nursing remains one of the most dangerous professions due to the risk of injury and, sadly, the risk of assault from patients and their family members. Let us examine what measures are in the works to protect those who care for us at our lowest moments and how we can do better.
Causes of On-the-Job Harm for Nurses
Due to the nature of the industry, nurses face higher risks of on-the-job injuries than those in the private sector. Out of every 100 nurses, more than eight will suffer a work-related injury each year.
One of the safety issues impacting nurses involves their scheduling. Nurses in hospital settings often work 12-hour shifts, many times working a combination of overnight shifts and others during the day. This leads many nurses to develop sleep deprivation issues. Even one night of missed sleep can lead to difficulty focusing, contributing to accidents, and working differing shifts creates issues maintaining solid sleep hygiene techniques.
Another workplace danger facing nurses is the threat of accidental needle sticks. Every year, approximately 384,000 accidental needle sticks occur in hospitals and doctor offices. These occur most often when nurses are feeling tired or pulling a double shift, and lack of staffing also plays a role.
Nurses work around dangerous medications and chemicals all day. Even radiation poses a risk, although nurses typically remain out of imaging areas. Many of the agents used to sterilize patient surfaces, for example, can prove toxic to humans in sufficient quantities, and researchers continue to investigate the hazards of daily exposure. Exposure to certain medications, such as nitroglycerin used to treat heart attacks, can cause migraine-like symptoms and hypotension (low blood pressure) in those not needing the drug.
Finally, one of the leading causes of workplace injuries requiring time off for nurses is back injuries. Even though nursing schools take care to instruct new nurses in proper patient lifting techniques, this training goes by the wayside if inadequate staffing levels require nurses to move heavy patients on their own. Given the epidemic of obesity in the U.S., it’s safe to say nurses today probably lift more than those in earlier generations, and the endless strain can cause serious, even disabling back injuries.
Growing Home Health Care Concerns
Many members of today’s aging population prefer to remain in their homes, creating a need for more nurses to enter the home health care field. This creates additional dangers for nurses as they need to enter the homes of complete strangers, often all alone.
While most patients are grateful for care, some who suffer dementia can injure home health care workers without meaning to do so. Additionally, midnight calls for aid in dangerous neighborhoods expose nurses to additional dangers. Nearly 10 percent of American seniors now live in poverty, and considering many of today’s generations cannot save sufficient money for retirement, the problem is likely to grow.
Assault Against Nurses Is a Growing Concern
Finally, it isn’t only seniors with dementia who vent their frustrations through physical assault against health care providers. Receiving a negative diagnosis creates enormous stress, and while uncommon, some do lash out physically. Additionally, nurses deal with patients who suffer addictions to drugs, alcohol and both. While under the influence, such patients can prove violent, especially if they’re seeking medications such as opiates the health care center refuses to issue.
Another issue spurring violence against nurses is poverty and lack of insurance coverage among patients. Even though the law prohibits hospitals, for example, from failing to perform basic emergency care techniques on uninsured patients, violations occur, and some facilities persist in turning patients lacking coverage away. It’s understandable that this leads to frustration, but it also increases assault risk.
Protecting Our Caregivers
On June 11 of this year, the House proposed HR 1309, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. The Act requires health care facilities to establish plans for preventing workplace violence before it occurs. The Act requires swift implementation of such plans.
Still, a nursing shortage exists, especially across the south and west. Even though many nursing positions offer competitive pay and benefits, the dangers of the profession make some hesitant to enter it. Stricter regulations, such as requiring home health care nurses to wear emergency alert buttons and monitoring devices when visiting patients alone, could encourage more individuals to enter the profession.
Keeping Our Nurses Safe at Work
Everyone deserves a workplace free from unreasonable danger and threats of violence, especially those who care for us when we are at our weakest. By doing more to protect our nurses, we can encourage others to enter the profession and help make sure the U.S. population has the care it needs.