Preventable nursing injuries- are they really preventable

Nursing has been known to be one of the most dangerous professions, related to the increased incidence of occupational injuries and illnesses. . The primary reason for these injuries- the lifting and transferring of patients.

The numbers speak for themselves, with 52% of nurses complaining of chronic back pain, with a lifetime prevalence of 80%[1]. In addition, there is a 38% incidence of severe back pain, causing a permanent work force leave[2].


Risk factors for potential injuries are threefold, including America’s looming obesity epidemic, inadequate staffing and increasing patient workload. These risk factors then provide the unfortunate perfect storm for the risk of musculoskeletal work related injuries.


A nurse’s shift has many demands, many of which include patient lifting and transferring. This may include transferring a patient from gurney to a patient bed, turning a patient on their side, providing skin care to an obese patient or trying singlehandedly to move a patient up in bed. While the use of a lift sheet, lift belt or mechanical lifts can assist, there are numerous barriers to using these devices including patient dislike or refusal, storage issues, inadequate access, time constraints, inadequate numbers of devices and weight restrictions to name a few. Lastly, even with the use of the devices, there still might be a patient’s weight exceeding the NIOSH lifting guidelines.


Fortunately the US Senate is working on bill “The Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act”[3] which would provide a national standard for nurses and other health care workers. The hope then to reduce the high cost of work related injuries with the usage of national occupational safety standard to prevent manual patient lifts.


In the meantime, what is a nurse to do? While administration provides education regarding appropriate body mechanics or lift transfer devices, the fact remains that the nurse’s daily workload includes many opportunities for work related injury. While it is important and necessary to pass a Senate Bill, we are losing too many nurses to these injuries. Is there a permanent solution or are nurses simply always to be at increased risk of musculoskeletal disorders with potential for life long pain and disease?

[1] Edlich, R., Winters, K., Hudson, A.M., Britt, L.D., Long, W.B. (2004). Prevention of disabling back in nurses by the use of mechanical patient lift systems. Journal of Long-Term Effects of Medical Implants, 14(6), 521-533

[2] American Nursing Association. (2012). Handle with care fact sheet. Retrieved from…Toolkits/FactSheet.html