U.S. Backward on Back Injury to Nurses: Halting the Epidemic
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 6, 2003
Nurses lift an estimated 1.8 tons per shift. 83% of nurses work in spite of back pain. 60% of nurses fear a disabling back injury. 12% to 39% of nurses not yet disabled are considering leaving nursing due to back pain and injuries. 38% to nearly 50% of nurses will suffer a work-related back injury during their career. 70% of nurses' back injuries are to the lumbar spine with 57% to intervertebral discs. 44% of back-injured nurses are unable to return to their pre-injury position.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has established 51 lbs. as the safety limit for men to lift (46 lbs. for women) and 3,400 N (newtons) as the safety limit for compressive force to lumbar spinal discs.
Manual patient handling, called “extremely hazardous” with “substantial risk of causing a low-back injury whether with one or two patient handlers," exerts 3,820 N to 9,170 N of force, approaching the point where 90% of the population can be expected to suffer vertebral endplate fractures.
the early 1990's, research by William Charney and others has repeatedly
shown that use of safe patient lift equipment and friction-reducing
devices, by either nursing staff or specially-trained lift teams,
leads to dramatic reductions in injuries to nurses and medical
and compensation costs to employers and insurance companies. One
of Charney's studies showed reduction of patient handling injuries
from 22 to 6, lost workdays from 788 to zero, and costs from $242,000
to $14,470. Another study by Charney showed reduction in costs related
to patient handling injuries in two previous years from $63,796
and $20,632 to $336 with restricted duty days dropping from 151
and 171 days to two days.
With abundant evidence that use of mechanical patient-lift equipment drastically curtails injuries to nurses - as well as skin tears and bruising to patients - most hospitals, unable to perform accurate cost-benefit analysis of injury prevention, continue using nursing staff as human lift equipment. When disabled from lifting up to thousands of pounds every shift, nurses are often discarded by employers who refuse to provide permanent light duty. Thus, cruel exploitation of nurses, and unnecessary risk of injury to patients, goes unchecked as nurses are required to perform hazardous manual lifting and may then be forced out when injured and unable to continue.
So deeply engrained is the culture of injury acceptance within healthcare that disabling and discarding nurses is not even mentioned by many of those reporting on the nursing shortage.
Back-injured nurses are not choosing to leave - they are being disabled by largely preventable injuries and, with no advocate to intervene, many are discarded by short-sighted employers.
Manual lifting of patients has been condemned for years by governments and nursing organizations in other countries. The under-axilla “drag” lift, used 98% of the time by American nurses, is outlawed as unsafe to both nurses and patients by England's Royal College of Nursing (RCN). No Lift policies by the RCN and Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) state, “Staff should not attempt to lift any patient manually, whatever their weight” and “The aim is to eliminate hazardous manual handling in all but exceptional or life-threatening situations.” Nurses in England and some other countries can be disciplined by employers if they manually lift patients while many American nurses are still required to do so.
With the U.S. shamefully lagging behind, some other countries are aggressively protecting nurses from preventable back injury. Sponsored by the Department of Human Services, the Victoria, Australia, government funded the $7.7 million Victorian Nurses' Back Injury Prevention Project leading to a 48% reduction in nurses' back injury WorkCover claims, a 74% reduction in lost days, from 2,856 to 754 days, and a 54% drop in costs related to claims. The program will recover its costs within a year and will save nearly $13 million a year on nurse back injury payouts with the health industry expecting premiums to drop sharply in line with the halving of claims.
an effort to halt needless pain, suffering, and financial ruin
associated with preventable back injuries, Back Injury among
Healthcare Workers: Causes, Solutions, and Impacts has just
been released. The first of its kind, the 347-page book is a combination
of academic chapters by experts in their fields exploring causes
and providing solutions to back injury in healthcare from an international
perspective, along with personal stories by back-injured nurses,
exposing impacts of damaged health, lives, and careers following
largely preventable injuries. All nurses required to
lift patients are at extreme risk of severe injury and potential
It is the editors' hope that Back Injury among Healthcare Workers: Causes, Solutions, and Impacts will expose the unthinkable wastage of experienced nurses, and lead to implementation of Zero Lift policies, to enactment by every state of industry-specific No Manual Lift for Healthcare legislation, and to nursing organizations negotiating for retention of back-injured nurses.
One hundred percent of proceeds from Back Injury among Healthcare Workers: Causes, Solutions, and Impacts will go directly to Work Injured Nurses' Group USA (WING USA) founded by Anne Hudson as an informational, mutual support, and advocacy group for injured nurses at www.wingusa.org.
For more info about Back Injury among Healthcare Workers: Causes, Solutions, and Impacts, go to: Work Injured Nurses' Group USA: book.htm and CRC Press: http://www.crcpress.com/shopping_cart/products/product_detail.asp?sku=L1631&parent_id=&pc
Interview contacts: In addition to contacts listed below are additional nurses in the U.S. willing to tell their stories as well as additional international contacts working toward safe patient handling in England, Ireland, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and Holland.
William Charney and Anne Hudson are scheduled to speak at the national convention of the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare (AOHP), San Diego, CA, Oct 8 to 10, 2003, and can be reached during that time at the convention site, Bahia Resort Hotel, 988 W.
Mission Bay Drive, San Diego, CA, 858-539-7700. For convention info: www.aohp.org.
For potential availability of a complimentary copy of Back Injury among Healthcare Workers: Causes, Solutions, and Impacts for published book reviews, please email Randi Cohen with CRC Press: RCohen@crcpress.com.
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