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OSHA to inspect hospitals to prevent nursing injuries

When most people think of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), they are likely to think of industrial accidents involving machinery or factory equipment. And that certainly does encompass a great deal of their investigations and enforcement actions.

But after a recent NPR story on the topic of the injuries suffered by nurses in hospitals, the director of the agency has announced that OSHA will begin inspections of hospitals and fining violations of work safety rules.

As the NPR story noted, nurses suffer one of the highest rates of physical injury of any occupation. This is due to a large degree because they rely on outdated procedures for lifting patients. Most patients are still moved by nurses and other hospital staff lifting the patients. While this may have been viable when patients were smaller and nurses had to lift fewer patients.

With staffing cuts and greater productivity demands placed on nurses, the result has been an increase in debilitating injuries. Research has shown that there is no "good" way for a nurse to lift a patient without mechanical assistance.

The story describes how one Veterans Affairs hospital had managed to significantly reduce injuries among its nursing staff by rigorous use of mechanical ceiling lifts. However, not every VA hospital has instituted this program and nurses employed in many VA hospitals are just as prone to back injuries as in any other hospital.

And because they are federal employees, if they are injured on the job, the must turn to the federal workers' compensation program,  from the Division of Federal Employees' Compensation (DFEC), which is part of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP).

Like other workers' compensation programs, they function like an insurance policy, and like most insurance policies, have specific provisions and rules. Injured nurses from VA hospitals may need legal assistance working through the procedures necessary to make a claim and obtain benefits.

Source: NPR.com, "OSHA Launches Program To Protect Nursing Employees," Daniel Zwerdling, June 24, 2015

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