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Preventing Nurse Injuries Caused by Lifting Patients

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Preventing Nurse Injuries Caused by Lifting Patients

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Workers’ Compensation Attorney. Contrary to popular perception, nurses have one of the most physically strenuous jobs in the US. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) brought into light various nurse injuries caused due to overexertion.

Musculoskeletal injuries and back-related problems occur more commonly among nurses. From 2010 to 2011, nurses collectively lost more hours than other professional worker groups because of a musculoskeletal job injury or back ache. The primary cause of these injuries is patient lifting and handling.

Why is Patient Lifting Risky?

Even though all nurses undergo strict training to avoid traumatic injuries by utilizing proper body mechanics, it is not enough. According to reports in the National Public Radio, many other unavoidable factors lead to nurse injuries such as:

  • When a nurse regularly leans over for patient handling, their back becomes prone to injuries. This is particularly true when lifting a patient. Chances of disc injuries also increase with constant back exertions.
  • The distance between a nurse and patient is typically less than a foot while lifting and moving the patient. This increases the strain on nurse’s musculoskeletal structure, leading to a higher chance of injuries.
  • Majority of American adults are overweight. Some of the patients handled every day by the nurses weigh more than 300 pounds. Lifting this kind of weight is more than what an average person can physically handle. The patient’s feelings do not matter in this situation. Moving and positioning this type of patient around could involve three people. This was depicted a little in the not so funny movie I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry with an obese man and firefighters. It is not so funny in real life.
  • While lifting patients, many nurses suffer from tears in the muscles, which could be microscopic in nature. However, gradually with prolonged muscle abuse on a repetitive basis, these microscopic muscle tears can deteriorate into serious injuries.

Many employers believe that it is possible to prevent patient lifting injuries when two or more nurses perform the task as a group. This theory, however, is not so scientific. A report by National Public Radio specifically stated that although team lifting reduces the overall weight, it tends to expose every team member’s spine to lateral forces. In other words, the risk profile of patient lifting does not really improve with a team effort.

What happens when there is not another nurse around? This puts even more pressure on nurses. Even if there is protocols for this type of situation it is not practical to always expect a nurse to have another nurse around for help. Should obese people be charged more for care? That is another topic.

Other Factors Responsible for Nurse Injuries

The CDC has said that many factors are responsible for an increase in job injuries for nurses. A major factor is the shortage of staff, which is expected to continue at least until 2025. Understaffing causes a nurse to take on more work than what they should. This can make them vulnerable to back injuries.

An aging workforce has also added to the woes. The average American registered nurse is around 44 years of age. This makes it difficult for them to lift heavy weights and work at the same pace as a younger healthcare worker. Furthermore, in the event of an injury, it takes more time for them to bounce back and return to their nursing profession.

Preventing Patient Lifting Injuries

One of the many vital measures the state of California has taken to minimize work injuries among nurses is to set a pre-determined ratio between nurses and patients in hospitals. However, the resulting decrease in injuries is still not within acceptable limits. The annual decrease of work injuries in registered nurses after this state law has only been 32 percent, according to one study.

The ideal way to lower the amount of nurse injuries is for hospitals to start investing in patient lifting machines to make the whole process safe for both patients and nurses – according to some. Who pays for this? Other healthy patients? Or obese patients? This is another subject though.

If these patient lifting machines are for everyone – that is another cost for hospitals to deal with. This situation is not uncomplicated.

How to Pursue Compensation?

Work injuries can lead to loss of income for an injured nurse. Apart from the financial constraints and physical discomfort, not being able to go to work can also lead to emotional and mental agony.

A nurse injured at the workplace should contact an attorney to pursue a comprehensive compensation claim, which may include costs such as medical expenses, retraining in another vocation, and a plethora of other expenses related to the workplace injury. An attorney would also assist in everything from injury-related documentation to accurate cost calculation.

This is not the time to attempt to do everything by yourself. There is a time to ask for help. Legal help is available.

Related Blogs by Sacramento Workers’ Compensation Attorney, Ed Smith:

Sacramento Workers’ Compensation Attorney

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Workers’ Compensation Attorney. If you or someone that you love has been injured while working and needs the help of an experienced lawyer, I can help. Please reach out to me right away by calling (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, compassionate, and friendly advice. You can also reach me online through the contact page on my website,

For three decades I have served individuals and their families recover from the unexpected. Please take a moment to review the comments my past clients have left on: GoogleAvvo, and Yelp.

I am a member of the Million Dollar Advocates. This attorney’s group is reserved for trial attorneys with million dollar verdicts for their clients.

You can find summaries of some of my past Settlements and Verdicts by visiting my website,

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Medical Professionals Partner to Treat Patients by Staff Sgt. Shejal Pulivarti, US Army. Public Domain
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