New U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on worker injuries shows that nursing assistants remain at high risk of workplace injuries, despite an overall decline in worker injuries across industries in 2015. Last year, these workers had among the highest number of injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work, alongside “heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers” and “laborers and freight, stock, and material movers.” The BLS data is compiled from the agency’s 2015 Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, an annual survey of non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses from selected employers.
But the story doesn’t end there. It is important to note that nursing assistants also experienced musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) at a rate of 171 cases per 10,000 full-time workers. MSDs are injuries to the muscles, nerves and tendons of the limbs and lower back. Nursing assistants and other health care workers often develop MSDs from lifting and moving patients manually on a regular basis, requiring time off work to recover.
Public Citizen released a five-part series “Nursing: A Profession in Peril,” which showed how nursing employees injured while moving patients suffered lasting chronic pain, depression and reduced mobility. Many of these injuries have devastating and lifelong consequences, even causing some workers to lose their jobs when they could no longer fulfill their lifting duties.
Part four of the series documented that some health care employers have addressed this problem by implementing programs that replace manual lifting with equipment such as portable lifts and slide boards. Not only do these programs keep workers safe – they also save employers money. Studies show that employers recover expenses within approximately four years of implementation due to factors such as reduced workers’ compensation payments for manual lifting injuries.
Although 11 states have passed laws to respond to the MSD injury crisis, there is currently no federal standard requiring health care employers to protect workers by implementing safe patient handling programs in their facilities. Such a standard would be critical in preventing MSDs among nurses and other health care workers. Despite the fact that President-Elect Trump claims he will take actions to “protect American workers” within his first 100 days in office, his plan does not actually outline any details for addressing worker safety. Furthermore, his administration has threatened a temporary moratorium on all new regulations, which will likely include halting important public health and safety rules.
While advocates await the next administration’s plan to improve occupational health and safety, one thing is certain – nursing employees deserve safe workplaces just like all other working people.
Emily Gardner is the worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.
Keep up with Public Citizen’s work on these issues by following @SafeWorkers on Twitter.