We DO Need Legislation to Keep Nurses Safe

I read this post from The American Nurse and thought, “surely we don’t need laws for this. Surely it’s obvious to everyone that hurt nurses are not good contributors to the profession, leaving aside the obviousness of getting hurt is bad, m’kay?”

Then reality descended. Of course we need legislation. Lifting equipment and adequate staffing cost money, and it is a rare employer indeed who will supply all that if not made to do so. Nurses will make do, right? We always have.

It’s similar to the “violence is part of the job” mentality. Part of this is our fault. We do make do; we put patient care first and pooh-pooh our own needs, even our physical safety needs. Patients insist on it as well. I don’t know how many morbidly obese patients who somehow manage to get around at home have expected (and demanded) that I somehow lift them in the hospital. I’m not a big person.

The few European nurses I’ve corresponded with are appalled at this part of American nursing. Across the pond, it is seen as bad nursing to jump in and move a patient without waiting for a lift or extra help or, more likely, both. What will it take to create that culture change here?

Apparently it’s not the number of injuries. The ANA cites really bad statistics there. My back hurts all the time, and I just live with it. So do most of the nurses I know who have been practicing longer than a minute. I shrug it off. “I move humans for a living.”

It’s not the lack of available technology. We have self-propelling lawnmowers, for heaven’s sake, yet nurses spend our lives wrestling with pushing heavy hospital beds. Push those around for a shift or two, and your back will hurt. Period. Lifts and Hoverpads exist to help us safely transfer patients who can’t help us, but I haven’t even seen a lift at my current job (I have seen the Hoverpad: it was pristine to the point I wondered if it had ever been used).

I completely understand the culture perpetuating this “nurses get injured and we can’t help it” lockstep. If your patient needs to get to the bathroom, she needs to get there 5 minutes ago. If your patient needs to be transferred to another bed, nobody wants to prolong the handoff by waiting 15 minutes to find a lift or other appropriate equipment. It is always faster to collect extra bodies or to just brace yourself and, literally, put your back into it.

You don’t always think you have time. So far my worst work injury totally threw my back out and put me on light duty for 2 weeks, but I got better. The problem is, I hurt myself by pulling a dead lady out of a car so I could start compressions. So if the same situation presents itself again, I probably will do the same thing. We react; we run on adrenaline.

So even if the ANA manages to get legislation through, it will still be up to us, the nursing workforce, to collectively decide that we are worth changing this culture for. We are just as important as the patient who needs to transfer. We will learn to put ourselves first, even pulling people out of cars, so that we can live to nurse another day. We have to be utilitarian about this. It is not uncaring to make one patient wait when by doing so we will be able to help many others throughout our careers.

About Megen Duffy

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Megen Duffy, RN, BA, BSN, CEN, is a practicing nurse, blogger, and contributing editor for the American Journal of Nursing. Megen has practiced in a variety of settings from emergency rooms to prisons.