Some 5,000 nurses from hospitals in California’s San Francisco Bay area are on strike. Union leaders say the dispute centers around meal and break relief, health and retirement benefits and safe lifting policies. This last demand highlights a particular peril in the healthcare profession – debilitating and potentially life-altering musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from repeatedly lifting and moving patients.
DOL figures in 2002 show that nursing aides, orderlies and attendants rank second on the list of at-risk occupations for strains and sprains. Truck drivers top the list. Nurses are sixth.
Hospitals present many situations where standard safe lifting rules can’t be applied, as people can’t be handled like boxes. It is not difficult to imagine the complications that come with moving or lifting combative, uncooperative, unconscious, very heavy or very frail individuals. And any lift or repositioning has to be accomplished without worsening the condition of the patient, another challenge.
Audrey Nelson, Ph.D. RN FAAN, Director of the Tampa Veterans Health Administration Patient Safety Center of Inquiry, wrote in a 2003 study that the lift can be complicated by conditions like wounds, fractures and tubes. She said nurses often lift, transfer or reposition patients with outstretched arms or bent forward in awkward postures and positions, increasing the risk for injury.
The position of the American Nurses Association (ANA) in its “Handle with Care” campaign, launched in 2003, is that nurses should not have to manually lift, transfer or reposition patients. This initiative is aimed at persuading hospitals and other health care facilities to adopt no-manual-lift policies and employ assistive-lifting devices in patient handling and care.
According to a report from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the United States currently has a deficit of nearly 150,000 RNs and will have a shortage of more than 800,000 RNs by the year 2020.
According to the ANA, 12 per cent of nurses leave the profession each year due to chronic or acute back injuries and pain.
Resolving the lifting issue at the hospital could help resolve the meal and rest break dispute, which the strikers blame in an article in the San Jose Mercury News on short staffing.
In its campaign, the ANA maintains that implementing the safe lifting policies it recommends will help address the nation’s growing nursing shortage by reducing the number of nurses whose careers are cut short because of avoidable injuries, by extending the work life of an aging nursing workforce and by making nursing a more attractive career choice.
Sources: American Nurses Association; San Francisco Chronicle; San Jose Mercury News