- The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is getting serious with hospitals for the first time about the epidemic of injuries among nurses and nursing assistants required to lift patients simply by using "proper body mechanics"—especially given the ongoing rise in obesity.
- An NPR investigation found this year that many of those injured during the normal course of their duties wind up requiring surgeries or leaving the profession. However, hospitals have generally failed to implement solutions to protect nurses.
- OSHA's initiative steps up their role from just recommending safer practices, to potentially fining hospitals that don't adopt them.
OSHA is sending a strong message with this new program but has limited resources to back it up.
The plan is for inspectors to examine what devices, support and training hospitals are providing nurses for moving patients, and how they respond to and track injuries. Penalties would typically be $7,000 per hospital but could be as high as $70,000. OSHA indicates it will also look at how hospitals are protecting nurses from hazards such as patient attacks, slips and falls and tuberculosis.
However, OSHA may only be able to inspect a small fraction of the nation's hospitals each year—perhaps several dozen, of the more than 4,000.
"[OSHA] will be sending an important message to these workplaces; they will be able to establish some improvements in some specific workplaces," Michael Silverstein, former director of Washington state's occupational safety and health program, told NPR. "But they will be taking only baby steps in that direction."