Firefighters, police officers, pilots, and iron and steelworkers are some of the most dangerous roles out there. Considering their jobs, it doesn’t seem surprising. However, it might seem shocking to know that research reports that nurses between the ages of 45 and 54 accounted for 27% of all injuries and illnesses in the United States.
In fact, work-related illness and injuries were greater in the healthcare sector than in the construction and manufacturing industries. Especially in the 21st century – following the Covid-19 pandemic – nurses’ security in the workplace is at an even greater threat. Certain risky medical procedures, patients with serious infectious diseases, and the physically demanding nature of the job all threaten their health.
So let us discuss some ways you can improve nurse safety in the workplace.
1. Introduce measures for infection prevention
Nurses take care of patients with severe infections, and the top priority should be to avoid contracting diseases from these patients. While this might sound obvious, the first step is to provide them with personal protective equipment (PPE) like plastic gloves, overalls, gowns, masks, etc. Secondly, nurses may come into contact with soiled laundry, bloody wounds, blood samples, and contaminated waste during disposal. Instruct them about handling bodily fluids, secretions, or excretions safely to prevent infections. This is particularly important when managing patients with blood-borne diseases.
One of the current issues facing nurse practitioners dealing with Covid-19 patients is the increased contamination risk. Since this new virus is highly contagious, it is essential to provide nurses with special equipment, including face shields, protective clothing, and N-95 masks. Sterilization of equipment and sanitization has also become more important now.
2. Design a schedule that prevents burnout
No one can deny that nursing is a demanding profession, both physically and emotionally. Nurses are expected to always be on their feet, react quickly, communicate effectively, and practice problem-solving. Such constant mental and physical effort can be quite draining. Incorporate frequent, albeit short, breaks in their schedule and make staff break areas like gardens to spend their free time. Secondly, if nurses report that they are not feeling well, let them take some time off. Fatigued nurses also fail to provide care to the best of their potential, putting patients at risk.
3. Prevent repetitive strain injuries
Nurses working long shifts and engaging in repetitive tasks, forceful motions, or using mechanical compression are at an increased risk of repetitive strain injuries. Overusing any muscle in a specific movement can lead to pain, throbbing, and tender joints. Back injuries can result from constantly kneeling over patient beds. One way around this problem is to introduce breaks between repetitive motion tasks. You can also introduce machines to replace manual and physically demanding work. Also, encourage nurses to use comfortable protective shoes and compression socks. If a nurse reports any strained muscles, allocate tasks that do not require the same motion and let those muscles relax.
4. Protect nurses against workplace violence
Research suggests that approximately 21% of all Registered Nurses and students have reported physical and 50% verbal assault over 12 months. In emergency departments, 12% of the nurses reposted physical abuse. Since nurses often work at night with volatile and aggressive patients, they are at an increased risk. Sadly, nurses have no legal protection against workplace violence, so it is the hospital management’s duty to introduce measures to protect them. You should keep track of risky patients, those with a history of drug abuse, violence, dementia, etc. When they visit these patients, give nurses security escort and install security cameras in the corridors outside their rooms. Also, introduce a channel through which nurses can safely report incidents of violence against them.
5. Teach nurses de-escalation techniques
In the high-stress environment of a hospital, especially when delivering bad news, emotions run high. Patients or their families could easily become angered, agitated, or frustrated and act out against the healthcare provider. Nurses are vulnerable to such violence, and they should know how to identify cues that indicate escalating behavior. You can recognize if someone is about to act out through verbal threats, escalating voice, and pacing behaviors. When nurses sense this, they should know to express empathy, listen actively, not respond to anger with anger, and provide reassurance while maintaining boundaries. Promising something impossible and making false reassurances can only worsen the situation. Nurses can diffuse the building tension through calm facial expressions and empathetic phrases.
6. Encourage safe patient handling techniques
Patient handling is one of the most physically demanding tasks expected from a nurse. This includes heavy lifting for transferring and repositioning patients. Don’t let nurses handle such tasks alone; always ensure that a team of at least two is involved or introduce mechanical assisting devices. Also, encourage them to call for assistance whenever needed and report injuries instantly. Never let them accept these injuries as a part of the job.
7. Administering Hazardous Drugs with Caution
Several drugs require special handling. This may include wearing gloves, a mask or any other safety gear. Healthcare facilities need to ensure that nurses receive proper instructions regarding safety precautions for specific drugs. Additionally, nurse leaders must also consult pharmacists about any new medications that they are not familiar with to ensure their own safety and that of their co-workers or staff.
8. Creating rules for Online usage
Social media doesn’t harm nurses physically – unless they get involved in protests or any violence resulting from social media content. However, misuse of platforms such as Facebook or Twitter may lead nurses in the wrong direction, and they might end up losing their jobs. For example, posting pictures or videos about patients without their consent can result in legal actions. Employers need to create strict guidelines regarding social media usage for their nursing staff. After that, it is the responsibility of every nurse to adhere to these rules and regulations. You can not post details about your patients without their approval, and anyone doing so will violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.
Nurse practitioners are at high risk for injuries and illnesses when handling patients, and the hospital management must ensure their safety. Modify the facility’s environment so that the nurses have proper protective gear, mechanical equipment for patient handling, and a channel to report incidents of violence against them. Train them to handle patients and their families safely and allow frequent breaks. Employee safety is a crucial aspect of the success of any organization.