Top 10 Ways to Avoid Injuries and Illness at Your Nursing Job
By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
While among the most rewarding professions, nursing is not without its challenges. Nurse safety is always a concern because nurses are consistently exposed to numerous risks, sometimes with life-changing or life-ending consequences. So to keep you healthy and safe, NurseZone queried a panel of experts who share this list of 10 reminders and tips on how to avoid nursing safety issues and minimize the chance of nursing job-related injury or illness:
1. Clean your hands. “Wash your hands to prevent illnesses’ spread,” said Arvella Battick, MSN, RN, PHN, an instructor at Everest College in Anaheim, Calif.
When it comes to illnesses, my number one rule is to wash your hands, agreed Jumi Harris, MHA, MT (ASCP), manager of ancillary services at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital. It “sounds very basic, but this is the best way to avoid getting sick.”
2. Use the lift and transfer equipment. My number one way to avoid injuries on the job is to use lift devices instead of trying to lift a patient or resident manually, said Harris, adding, “Sometimes a nurse may think it’s too time consuming to get and use a lift or that the person is not too heavy. However it only takes one wrong move to injure yourself.”
Renee Watson, RN, BSN, CPHQ, CIC, manager of infection prevention and epidemiology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, added that nurses should use the appropriate equipment to lift anything heavy, such as soiled linen bags.
3. Watch for hazards and practice good body mechanics. Battick recommended nurses watch for hazards and keep the environment free of clutter. If there’s something on the floor, pick it up; don’t just step over it. Practice ergonomics and good body mechanics, suggested Watson.
Nurses should wear supportive shoes and watch for fall risks for themselves, not just their patients, advised Nick Angelis, CRNA, MSN, author of How to Succeed in Anesthesia School (And RN, PA, or Med School). Changing positions and muscle movements helps minimize pain and discomfort over time. Rotate tasks between hands, he added, and avoid hunching over to chart or care for a patient.
4. Speak up and step up. Whether dealing with a potentially violent patient or just needing a hand to move someone or something, ask a colleague for help. “It’s safer to transfer with two people,” said Battick, but she acknowledged that help is not always available. On the other hand, step up and offer your assistance to peers whenever possible.
5. Get vaccinated for the flu. People working in hospitals, clinics and other care settings are at greater risk of acquiring the flu and of transmitting the disease to patients and peers. Influenza can be spread by simply sneezing and coughing, explained Tanielle Sterling, MSN, NP, clinical program manager for employee health at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. “By getting the flu vaccine, you protect yourself and may avoid spreading influenza to your patients, colleagues and your family.”
6. Immunize against other pathogens. Immunize the body and keep good immune health, advised Watson at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which requires nurses stay current with hepatitis B, tetanus and diphtheria, the measles, mumps and rubella series and influenza vaccinations.
“Hepatitis B infection is an occupational health hazard that is preventable by vaccination,” Sterling said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends health care workers be vaccinated against this highly infectious bloodborne pathogen that can remain infectious on surfaces for at least a week. Healthcare workers born in 1957 or later without serologic evidence of immunity or prior vaccination should also receive the measles, mumps and rubella series, varicella, and tetanus and diphtheria vaccines.
7. Practice safe needle handling. Each year, hospital personnel experience 385,000 needlestick- and sharps-related injuries, averaging more than 1,000 per day, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Mary Foley, PhD, RN, chairperson of the Safe in Common campaign to prevent needlestick injuries, called it essential that nurses and other clinical professionals work to raise awareness of these injuries and find ways to prevent them.
For starters, do not recap needles and use needless connection systems, advised Watson.
“Nurses need to be sure that the safety mechanism on needlesticks is automatic and will not interfere with normal operating procedures and processes,” Foley said, who also stressed the importance of properly disposing of used needles.
8. Don personal protective equipment (PPE) as appropriate. Take no shortcuts when it comes to protection against bloodborne pathogens. Always select and wear the appropriate gloves, gowns, masks, eye protection and other items to prevent exposure to patients’ body fluids.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta promotes using PPEs when clinicians know or suspect the patient has a communicable disease. Watson advised, “If it’s not your wet, put something between you and it,” and, “protect your eyes, nose and mouth from coughing.”
9. Get plenty of sleep. Multiple studies have found that fatigue negatively influences nurse performance. And in the book Patient Safety and Quality, Ann E. Rogers, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, warned that “in addition to jeopardizing patient safety, nurses who fail to obtain adequate amounts of sleep are also risking their own health and safety.” She pointed to the risk associated with drowsy driving, other accidents and an immune system that is not at peak performance when the body is tired.
10. Practice good self-care. Physical health requires overall wellness and staying strong, Watson said. Children’s in Atlanta promotes a holistic approach for staff that includes daily exercise, good nutrition and fitness. It offers fitness classes, unit stretch breaks and psychosocial support when needed.
When sick, Battick encourages nurses to stay home and rest. Angelis added that exercising, packing nutrient dense foods for lunch, ingesting probiotics, and staying well rested are all ways nurses can keep their immune systems in great shape.
Nursing safety is extremely important both for the health of nurses and their patients. Follow these tips to stay healthy and avoid more health problems in the future.
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