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U.S. Backward on Back Injury to Nurses: Halting the Epidemic


September 6, 2003

Seattle, WA -  Though much has been written on the nursing shortage, possibly the largest - and most preventable - contributor to the shortage has yet to be exposed and challenged.  Thousands of nurses have been needlessly sacrificed to disabling spinal injuries from lifting patients, with most of the injuries entirely preventable!”  Anne Hudson, RN.   

Solutions are offered by the ground-breaking new book Back Injury among Healthcare Workers: Causes, Solutions, and Impacts which exposes, explores, and solves the epidemic of preventable back injury among U.S. healthcare workers. 

 Co-editors William Charney, of Seattle, WA, pioneer of back injury prevention by Zero Lift and Lift Team methodologies, with five previous books on healthcare safety, and Anne Hudson, RN, of Coos Bay, OR, forced out of hospital nursing by a work-related spinal injury, examine causes, offer proven solutions from an international perspective, and reveal impacts of back injury to nurses.  

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.   

Since 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. 

Grey Blocker
The end of graying hair!

In a study by Eric Meittunen et al., over 60,000 patient transfers were performed without injury to the transfer team or to the nursing staff working with the team.

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.  

In 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

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Wrinkles - problem solved!

loss of nursing career. 

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

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:

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:

William Charney, DOH   
Safety Coordinator
Washington State Hospital Association
Phone:  206-216-2894
Cell:      206-390-3544

Anne Hudson, RN
Work Injured Nurses' Group USA
Phone:  541-269-0487
Cell:      541-404-8489

Maria Bryson, RN
Safety Rep and Steward
Work Injured Nurses' Group
Phone:  01206 303526
Cell:      07941172923

Elizabeth Langford, RN
Injured Nurses' Support Group
Phone:  03 9471 3279

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:




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