Nurses and Workplace Injuries: Care for the Caregivers
Healthcare workers are trained professionals who administer care—and concern—to patients in a wide variety of settings. They monitor vital signs, dispense medication, follow procedures, respond to emergencies, and cope with challenges. And in doing so, they get injured at an alarming rate. Consider some of the issues they face:
- Exposures—everything from blood borne pathogens and radioactive material to chemicals, waste and drugs
- Stress due to work overload, increase in patient population, limited or insufficient access to technology
- Workplace violence
- Ergonomic hazards from lifting and repetitive tasks
According to the Occupational and Health Administration (OSHA), a hospital is one of the most dangerous places to work. In fact, OSHA states that the injury and illness rate in hospitals is higher than the rates in construction and manufacturing—two industries commonly thought to be the most dangerous.
The most common injuries and illnesses among healthcare workers (nurses, aides, orderlies, technicians, etc.) are:
- Strains and sprains
- Cuts and punctures
- Multiple trauma
Many of these injures can be classified as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) because they involve the body’s joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, tendons and structures that support limbs, the back and the neck. In an effort to address these common MSDs among healthcare workers, The Hospital Patient and Healthcare Worker Injury Protection Act was incorporated into the California Labor Code. It requires employers operating healthcare facilities to adopt measures that will reduce injuries for those who have to lift and move patients.
A great step forward, when you consider that the American Nurses Association reports that more than one-third of back injuries among healthcare workers have been associated with handling patients and the frequency with which caregivers are required to move them.
The Act, which also prohibits employers from disciplining workers who refuse to lift or transfer a patient because of personal safety concerns, mandates that an employer:
- Maintain a safe patient handling policy at all times for all patient-care units.
- Provide trained lift teams or other support staff trained in safe lifting techniques in each general acute care hospital.
- Provide training to healthcare workers that includes at least the following: the appropriate use of lifting devices and equipment, the five areas of body exposure (vertical, lateral, bariatric, repositioning and ambulation), and the use of lifting devices to handle patients safely.
In addition, a registered nurse is responsible for observing and directing patient lifts and mobilization.
Beyond the MSDs, healthcare workers face other unique risks including:
- The threat of violence from patients with physical or mental health challenges.
- Exposure to patients and sharp devices contaminated with blood borne pathogens.
The risk management protocol needed to truly keep healthcare workers safe is far from fully developed.
We will continue to fight for the rights of those who are injured while on the front lines of patient care. Because the Workers’ Compensation laws are constantly changes, it is wise to contact an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney should you get injured on the job.
From Our Files
- A nurse we represented suffered a stroke after a 12-hour shift, leaving her with residual injuries including loss of use of her right arm, a limp in her right leg, and a speech issue. We were able to cross examine the agreed doctors to change their opinion that the stroke was industrially related. We also hired a vocational expert to help prove the applicant was no longer able to work in any profession, and obtained a maximum 100 percent permanent and total disability award at trial.
- After successfully litigating the issue of whether or not a nurse’s back injury was industrial in nature and forcing the defendant to accept the case, we were able to agree to a neutral Agreed Medical Examiner who fairly evaluated the claim. Soon after, a settlement was reached that allowed our client to settle for a reasonable level of permanent disability and retain her position as a registered nurse.
- We represented a client in the middle of her career as a registered nurse, who suffered a neck and back injury after a slip and fall in the hospital. We successfully litigated the case and obtained a much-needed back surgery that was originally disputed by the defendant. She was able to get the surgery, and necessary post-op care. While she was not able to return to her job, we were able to obtain a substantial lump sum settlement so she had the time to obtain vocational training from an approved school and care for her young child.
- We represented a client who was a vocational nurse. She saw a company doctor who gave her a lot of work restrictions and kept her out of work. After objecting to this report, and cross examining the doctor, we were able to get the doctor to reduce the amount of work restrictions given so the nurse would be able to return to work at the hospital. After holding a return-to-work accommodations meeting, the employer found her an alternative job she was able to perform within the reduced work restrictions. Thus, she was able to get back to work and manage her injury with appropriate treatment while still retaining her employment.
- A nurse we represented suffered a severe back injury that caused pain in her neck, back, arms and legs, which also led her to suffer from internal and psychiatric problems. The injuries were such that back surgery was required. Because she was unable to work and exhausted her workers’ compensation benefits, she had to apply for Social Security Disability. After being denied, we successfully appealed her denial. Further, we hired a vocational expert who prepared a detailed report, explaining that due solely to her workers’ compensations claims, she was not able to do her job, nor be re-trained to hold any job in the labor market. After going to trial, we successfully obtained a maximum 100 percent permanent and total disability award from the judge.
Keep in mind that because Workers’ Compensation is a no-fault system, an injured worker is not suing his or her employer, but rather making a claim for benefits. And, because each claim is different, with many variables involved, results cannot be guaranteed.