Report: High Back Injury Rate for Nurses

Who has the highest rate of back and other musculoskeletal work injuries: Firefighters, truck drivers or construction laborers? The answer: None of the above. Instead, it is nurses.

In a recent report, National Public Radio (NPR) took a closer look at this issue, focusing on why painful and often career-ending back injuries are so common among nurses working in U.S. hospitals and clinics.
The NPR report suggests the problem may be due to a combination of inadequate equipment and indifference among hospital administrators.

Many Factors Contribute to Problem of Nurse Back Injuries

A glance at the most recent on-the-job injury figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveals the serious problem with musculoskeletal injuries among nurses.

According the BLS statistics, the occupations with the most musculoskeletal disorders in one recent year were:

OccupationTotal NumberIncident rate (per 10,000 FT workers)Work days missed (median)
Nursing assistants 22,000 208.4 7
Laborers/movers 21,080 119.0 11
Truck drivers 15,730 105.4 22
Janitors/cleaners 14,390 95.4 10
Registered nurses 11,430 55.7 8
Stock clerks 10,990 84.9 13
Maintenance workers 10,660 98.1 12
Light delivery drivers 9,580 130.9 22
Retail salespeople 9,070 28.6 10
Production workers 8,220 N/A 13
Maids 7,510 112.1 8

In other words, more than 33,000 nursing assistants and registered nurses suffered musculoskeletal injuries or illnesses, with many of them missing work for a week or more.

When we think of musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, we tend to think of strained lower backs and more serious back injuries such as slipped discs. However, MSDs can also include damage to the neck, shoulders, wrists, hips, hands or feet.

According to NPR, many nurses blame the injuries on lifting and moving patients. These patients can, in some cases, weigh significantly more than the nurse. Also, nurses may need to do this lifting throughout the course of a long shift.

A spine injury expert told NPR that hospitals and nursing schools teach nurses lifting techniques, or body mechanics, such as bending at their knees and straightening the back.

However, the expert said, no technique is truly safe when it comes to moving heavy patients. Instead, hospitals should provide nurses with “safe patient handling” machinery – like the hoists you might see in a factory.

The issue: Few hospitals in the U.S. have such equipment. Also, few administrators see this as an urgent problem. In fact, one person told NPR that “too many hospital administrators see nursing staff as second-class citizens” or as a “disposable labor force.”

Hopefully, by calling attention to this problem, the NPR report will spur changes and improve working conditions for nurses in Virginia and across the country.

It is important to keep in mind that, if you are a nurse who has suffered a back injury or other musculoskeletal damage on the job, you may be eligible to recover Virginia workers’ compensation benefits.

By contacting an experienced work injury lawyer at Geoff McDonald & Associates, P.C., you can learn more about your rights and options for relief.