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OSHA Intensifies Focus On Nursing Injuries

Historically, employers and government officials have done little to minimize the unacceptably high risk of arm and back injuries nurses face on a daily basis – the highest of any occupation.

Lifting-related injuries have been a documented problem among the nursing workforce for more than a century, so nurses will probably be surprised to learn that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is increasing regulation of health care facilities that do a poor job protecting health care workers from injury.

“The agency’s intent is to soon issue updated guidance that instructs OSHA offices to allocate enforcement and other resources to additional inpatient health care facilities, such as nursing,” according to a recent memorandum from Thomas Galassi, director of enforcement programs at OSHA.

Is OSHA Stepping Up Its Game?

Beginning next week, OSHA will increase enforcement at hospitals, clinics and nursing homes that have a higher than average injury rate for health care employees. The agency will launch investigations and issue penalties – up to $70,000 per facility – when it finds that a facility deliberately ignored nursing injuries.

OSHA’s attention to the matter suggests there might be a cultural shift in how employers, lawmakers and officials address the disproportionate injury risk that registered nurses (RNs), certified nursing assistants (CNAs), orderlies and aides face.

Earlier this year, NPR broadcast a five-part series, “Injured Nurses.” The series generated public awareness of the injury hazards nurses face – especially when lifting and moving patients – and pressured lawmakers and officials to give the problem overdue attention. Whether the increased awareness will prompt significant change throughout the health care industry is still unknown, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

What Else Needs To Be Done?

OSHA is doing what it can, but it does not have enough resources to seek out all offenders – just the worst ones. These are only “baby steps,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of OSHA, said in an exclusive interview with NPR. The biggest opportunity for change is through Congress.

The Obama administration has stated its willingness to crack down on hospitals, but congressional support and new, nurse-protective laws are truly what nurses need. Whether the increased momentum for nurses’ safety will bring impactful change or amount to little more than lip service remains to be seen.


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