Workplace Injuries in Nursing - Protect Yourself


Published: 12 July 2017

Let’s start with a story about workplace injuries…

It’s 0630hrs and I am still feeling sleepy. I enter the client’s room to see that she appears disoriented. The woman has become entangled in her nasal oxygen tubing. She has tried to get herself out of the bed and her IV line is at risk of being tugged out. Her buzzer is lying on the floor and there is no light on in the dull room. She wanted to hop up to go to the bathroom.

The night shift nurse enters the room, and assists me to detangle the oxygen tubing and get some more slack in the IV line. We help the woman get her shoes on and to go the bathroom safely, and settle back into her bed. I place the bed in the lowest position with the bedrails down to make sure she is less at risk of falls or injury.

I jot down in my shift planner that I need to write up the incident in detail soon, and that the lady requires frequent visual observations for safety. The lady already looks like she is asleep again.

I ask the NUM to check on the client whilst I finish handover. I have a new client being admitted in a few minutes and the bed still needs to be made up ready for them. I have to do observations on the other clients before I admit the new client. I need to give out medications, set up the five other clients for breakfast, and it is pretty likely that I will need to assist them to the toilet throughout these tasks.

I quickly try to make the bed and ensure that I have elevated it to the correct height to help protect my back. As I come down the corridor, I see another nurse also in a hurry. She quickly grabs a pile of linen from the cupboard and carries it into the room and starts busily making the bed. The bed is low to the floor. I think about going over to quickly help her.

As I begin to move to help the other nurse, I see that another nurse in the hallway is hunched over the medication trolley, writing in the medication chart and searching for needed equipment.

A different nurse is standing in the middle of the doorway, talking to a client, when she nearly bumps into the hot meal trolley that has been parked next to her. The doctor quickly peeks in to see my client that has been unsettled. The woman is still asleep in the bed and the doctor accidentally bumps into the ‘A’ bed as he tries to quietly exit the room. He, fortunately, doesn't look like he has been injured.

The ward clerk tells me that the new client is coming to be admitted ahead of schedule. I quickly grab the observation trolley and go to check that my other clients are still alright.

As I make the rounds, I get to the last room and wave to the friendly client in the far bed. He is sitting in his bed watching the morning news.

I step into the room and slide across the floor, coming to land hard in the middle of the room.

nurse back injury

I look down and see the shiny laminate flooring. My left hip and lower back ache. The side and back of my pants are all wet, and so are both of my shoes.

The client from the nearer bed walks out of the toilet after hearing the bang from my fall. He looks so upset! He apologises for accidentally knocking over his bottle of water on his way to the toilet.

He was in a hurry and hadn’t been able to buzz yet.

I look up at the other staff surrounding me, and now I have become the client.

Workplace Injuries in Nursing

Nursing is busy, heavy, hard work! So it would seem likely for us to be injured in the workplace at some point in time.

I was surprised to read on the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation website, that:

Nursing and midwifery is the profession with the highest exposure to workplace violence; furthermore, there is a continually high incidence of back injury in nursing, especially in aged care where safe patient handling policies remain non-compulsory.’

(ANMF 2013a)

The latter part of this statement is less surprising, as I have often heard from peers over the years that it is 'so important to look after your back' and that 'so many nurses acquire back problems'. Nurses are, after all, caring for human beings, and this, of course, means that there is a risk of human dangers.

Nurses and midwives are also at the highest risk of sharps injuries out of the Australian healthcare workforce. Needless to say, this places nurses and midwives at risk of being infected by hepatitis B and other blood-borne viruses (ANMF 2013b).

The ANMF (2013a) has raised the importance of ensuring that there are ‘no lift’ policies in place in all healthcare facilities and sectors. They have also highlighted the importance of Government involvement in funding activities to reduce workplace aggression towards healthcare staff, and to promote adherence to OHS laws.