Safe Patient Handling Law Needed to Protect Nursing Assistants, Public Citizen Report Shows and BLS Data Confirms

Data released recently by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the need for a federal law protecting nursing assistants, who experienced injuries from overexertion and bodily reaction at a rate more than five times greater than all other workers.
“Without a federal law in place to eliminate heavy manual lifting in hospitals and other health care settings, we will continue to see startling injury statistics for nursing employees,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The BLS data should be a call to action for lawmakers and health care employers to protect these dedicated caregivers.”
The BLS data is compiled from the agency’s 2014 Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, an annual survey of non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses from selected employers. According to the survey, nursing assistants also faced the second highest number of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which accounted for more than half of the injuries requiring the nurses to take time off of work.
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.
Earlier this year, 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 crisis 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.
“Protecting nursing employees from debilitating injuries isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Congress should act immediately to create a nationwide safe patient handling standard to ensure that all nursing employees have safe places to work.”