Nurses are expected to help others recover from illnesses and injuries, so it is important for them to be able to do their job. Certain hazards and safety issues can put nurses at risk of becoming sick or injured at work. Thankfully, there are effective ways to prevent this from occurring. Knowing more about workplace hazards for nurses, including how they affect patient care, can help you understand the importance of staying in good physical and emotional health on the job.
Types of Occupational Hazards Nurses Face
Nurses face different kinds of occupational hazards in the workplace. A wide range of injuries and illnesses among these health care workers result in missed days at work each year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 20,150 nonfatal cases of illnesses and injuries caused nurses to miss work in 2019. This occupational hazard can affect nurses’ physical and emotional health while also impacting patient care. Some of the hazards nurses face in the workplace include:
1. Physical Injury
Nurses are at risk of having an occupational injury, such as musculoskeletal disorders, on the job. This is mainly caused by having to lift or handle patients while moving them to other rooms, transferring them, or adjusting their position in hospital beds. Doing so carries a risk of back injuries or injuries to other joints or parts of the body. Nurses who work in home health care also face a risk of physical injury on the job as they assist patients with daily activities.
2. Stress and Impact on Mental Well-being
Health care workers, including nurses, can develop stress from work, such as dealing with irregular schedules or having to work under difficult conditions on a frequent basis. This stress can have a negative impact on the mental well-being of nurses, which can make it harder for them to focus on their job. Keep in mind that chronic stress from work can also affect their physical well-being, which could lead to illnesses or injuries.
Nurses are exposed to infectious diseases while they are at work, especially when caring for patients who have these illnesses. Exposure to viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi can lead to illnesses such as influenza, hepatitis B or hepatitis C, and tuberculosis. While some of these illnesses are mild, others can cause serious, often harmful, symptoms. Nurses also have to take time off from work while recovering from these diseases. Wearing personal protective equipment and receiving vaccinations for some infectious diseases can help keep nurses safe from these illnesses.
4. Chemical Hazards
Nurses face chemical hazards in the workplace from exposure to certain disinfectants and other products used for sterilizing equipment. These chemicals, such as formaldehyde and ethylene oxide, can cause physical symptoms ranging from headache and nausea to reproductive problems and an increased risk of cancer. Nurses might also be exposed to potentially harmful chemicals from aerosolized medications and other chemicals used for treating patients. Handling these chemicals with extreme caution in order to reduce exposure is highly important.
5. Radiation Exposure
Exposure to radiation might not be a problem for some nurses. However, nurses working in emergency rooms or radiology departments might have a higher risk of radiation exposure, such as when taking X-rays or doing other imaging scans. Keep in mind that radiation doses from X-rays are considered low, and safety protocols exist to minimize exposure. Taking precautions can help reduce the risk of health problems linked to radiation exposure.
Nurses can experience extreme physical or mental burnout or exhaustion due to stressful working conditions, a major safety issue in nursing. For example, having to work 12-hour shifts or working in a fast-paced environment can cause nurses to become exhausted. For some nurses, providing care for patients with terminal illnesses, such as cancer, can lead to exhaustion and fatigue. This exhaustion can affect nurses’ physical and mental well-being, which can in turn cause them to miss work or raise the risk of making mistakes on the job.
How Do Workplace Hazards Impact Patient Care?
Workplace hazards can have a significant impact on patient care. When nurses are injured or ill, they are unable to provide care. Keep in mind that the American Nurses Association has urged the US Department of Health and Human Services to declare a national nursing shortage. With nursing shortages in some hospitals and other medical facilities, this can lead to challenges in ensuring that all patients receive prompt and proper care. These shortages can also affect nurses who are on the job through increased stress. When these nurses are expected to take on more job responsibilities or provide a greater amount of care, they are at risk of experiencing exhaustion and burnout. Taking steps to reduce workplace hazards helps nurses stay physically and emotionally healthy, which helps improve patient care.
How Nurses Can Prevent Workplace Hazards
Nurses can reduce their risk of being injured or becoming ill at work by following safety guidelines and regulations offered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These include precautions to reduce the risk of exposure to pathogens that cause infectious diseases, handling patients safely to prevent injuries, and handling chemical substances with extreme caution. Nursing departments can also provide ways to ease the risk of exhaustion and burnout among nurses. Individually, nurses can take steps to manage stress in their lives, such as practicing relaxation techniques.
If you are looking for a graduate degree program in nursing, contact American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Science at Post University. Our school offers a Master of Science in Nursing that is fully online for your convenience. This program can be completed in 24 months or less, has monthly start dates available, and is programmatically accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
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