March 5th, 2012 | The Blog
Someone actually did request a nursingjobs.org blog about occupational hazards that affect nurses. There are a variety of hazards to discuss, to which nurses should pay close attention. While this is not a complete list, it highlights the most prominent workplace hazards:
- Infectious diseases: Nurses care for the general patient population, some with contagious and infectious diseases. This exposes the staff to a variety of germs; scrupulous hand washing, gloves and other protective measures are critical to prevent the spread of such diseases.
- Accidental needlestick injuries: There are an estimated 600,000-800,000 accidental needlestick injuries annually in the United States: that averages out to 30 worker injuries per 100 hospital beds annually. These accidents expose workers to blood-borne pathogens, which include HIV, hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. Taking precautionary measures to prevent needlestick injury is the only solution.
- Back injury: Back injuries are the leading occupational health issue, with 38% of nurses reporting some level of back injury. Lifting, transferring and transporting patients are the key activities that drive these statistics. According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), in order to prevent back injury, the average worker should not lift more than 51 pounds.
- Latex allergy: 8-12% of health care workers have a latex allergy. Comparatively, only 1-6% of the general population has the same allergy. While latex gloves help to prevent the transmission of diseases, individuals with latex allergies can suffer from a variety of ailments (including dermatitis, asthma or even life-threatening anaphylaxis) as a result of wearing said gloves. Vinyl gloves are the most common and appropriate substitute for latex.
- Radiation: Whether working as a radiology nurse in an emergency room (where there are many portable x-rays done) or in a general patient care area, nurses must be aware of unnecessary radiation exposure. Nurses must work to protect themselves, their patients and their colleagues.
- Toxic chemical exposure: Many chemotherapy drugs are known carcinogens; caution must be taken to protect the nurses administering the drugs. A cold sterilizing agent called ethylene oxide is a known carcinogen and can also cause miscarriage (if any staff members handling the drug are improperly exposed). Glutaraldehyde is also another classic example of a cold disinfectant that can trigger occupational asthma; many other cleaning agents can also trigger asthma, as well.
- Emotional strain: Caring for patients who are suffering and facing death adds to the emotional stress for the nursing staff; this affects oncology staff members on a daily basis. Rotating shift work adds emotional and physical stress, sometimes resulting in health issues such as gastrointestinal problems, fatigue, back injury, headaches and depression.
- Workload issues: Increased workload, while trying to provide safe and attentive healthcare, is frustrating to nursing staff members on all levels. This heightened workload often leads to overtime hours on a routine shift. Decreased staffing while caring for sicker patients, due to layoffs and administrative reorganization, is the prime reason for this shift in added responsibilities.
- Violence in the workplace: Healthcare facilities, especially mental health and emergency departments, have the highest rate of non-fatal violence.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The OSH Act of 1970 strives “to assure safe and healthful working conditions” for today’s workforce. The healthcare workforce is comprised of 1.6 million workers who are employed at 21,000 different sites in the United States.
OSHA offers a comprehensive website dealing with occupational hazards in the healthcare workplace, called the Hospital eTool. It describes department-by-department occupational hazards within a hospital and suggested practices to ensure employee health and safety.