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Exploring the Painful Truth for Healthcare Workers

By Sherry E. Grant, Esq.
There is an epidemic affecting nurses and other healthcare workers in California and throughout the nation—and more often than not, it leads to excruciating, debilitating pain and perhaps the end of a career. No, it has nothing to do with infectious diseases. It has everything to do with the musculoskeletal injuries caused by lifting, transferring and repositioning patients manually.

California Nurse Injuries

Consider these findings from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • There are more than 35,000 back and other injuries among nursing employees each year.
  • The rate of overexertion injuries for hospital workers is twice the average of those in other industries.
  • Nursing assistants and orderlies suffer approximately three times the rate of back and other musculoskeletal injuries as construction workers.
  • Nursing assistants are injured more than any other occupation, including warehouse workers, truckers and stock clerks.

Because the jobs of those in the healthcare industry are so physically grueling, Section 6403.5 of the California Labor Code was enacted, and sets forth guidelines to protect workers. It stipulates the "Replacement of manual lifting and transferring of patients with powered patient transfer devices, lifting devices, and lift teams, as appropriate for the specific patient and consistent with the employer's safety policies and professional judgment and clinical assessment of the registered nurse."

Sounds great, but the problem is that adherence to the law varies from hospital to hospital, leaving many workers putting their own health at risk to care for patients.

Electronic lifts have been used in hospitals since the late 1800s, so the need is not a new one. And, given the fact that rising obesity rates in the United States increase the physical demands on caregivers, the use of a "safe patient handling" approach, which includes the use of special machinery, should be a given. But, for the nurses and other hospital workers that seek out our legal representation,  back, neck and shoulder injuries are commonplace—and across all specialty areas of patient care.
It is imperative that nurses and other healthcare givers understand that musculoskeletal injuries aren't always symptomatic immediately. In a recent National Public Radio program a nurse at a Walnut Creek hospital described her story of moving a male patient to aid him with a bedpan, only to find herself unable to walk two days later.

Remember that workplace injuries may be the result of a specific event or from repetitive motion, such as lifting and repositioning patients many times during any given work period. According to American Nurse Today magazine, during a typical eight-hour shift, a nurse lifts a cumulative weight of about 1.8 tons. When you multiply that by the number of shifts worked in a given year, it's staggering to consider.
Those who are on the frontlines of patient care, be it in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities or in a home healthcare setting, face major obstacles in terms of workplace perils. The giving nature of those who work directly with patients leaves them susceptible to these hazards. More often than not, they put themselves in harm's way in order to care for their patients. Though honorable, this mindset can lead to injuries that negatively affect their welfare that of their families.

For more than three decades we at Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP have been fighting on behalf of those injured on the job.  We will continue to work closely with healthcare workers so that they receive the full range of benefits to which they are entitled should they sustain a workplace injury.

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