Workplace Health and Safety Tips for Nurses

Workplace Health and Safety Tips for Nurses

A healthy work environment is empowering for both the employees and the administrators. It creates a culture of safety, which is paramount for performance. While it applies to every industry, it is especially true for the health care sector.

Medical workers are exposed to a lot of challenges, including health and safety challenges, and therefore it is even more important to create a culture of safety within the organization. This, in turn, helps to create a patient-centered team that performs with a sense of professionalism, involvement, efficiency, transparency, and accountability.

Challenges

In the United States, health care is the fastest-growing industry. It employs more than 18 million workers and almost 80% of health care staff are women. So it is not just the hazards on the job that the health care workforce needs to worry about; the fact that the sector employees such a large number of females makes it even more vulnerable to violence and stress.

The video below speaks volumes of the physical consequences nurses often experience in terms of workplace violence.


It is pretty obvious that the job related injuries and workplace violence are the reasons that make health care a very dangerous profession, especially for direct patient care professionals. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that there were 253,700 reports of work-related illness and injuries in hospitals in 2011. This means 6.8% such illness and injuries for every 100 full-time health care staff. And according to a study of emergency departments, 12.1% of emergency nurses are subjected to physical violence over an average week of work. Worse still, in almost 97.8% cases patients were the perpetrators. The problem is even more acute for mental health workers.

Besides, data indicates that direct patient care professionals are more likely to get hurt on the job; it is almost double the rate of employee injuries (including construction workers) in private industry. Most common injuries suffered by nurses are related to falling down, running into something, and overexertion. Illnesses are usually caused by needle-sticks, infectious diseases, back pain, coming in contact with toxic and allergy-causing substances, and so on.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? The good news is that it’s possible to prevent or at least reduce such workplace health and safety hazards for nurses. Follow these 3 tips to ensure workplace health and safety.

1. Be Careful of Sharp Objects

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, annually 385,000 sharps-related injuries occur among health care workers in hospitals. Needlestick or other sharp objects that health care workers are usually vulnerable to expose them to blood-borne pathogens. This is one of the major serious health and safety hazards experienced by nurses.

Nurses and other medical professionals have, for long, fought to make it compulsory to use safe needles in hospitals and health care centers. Today, it is mandatory by law for such medical organizations to use needles with safety caps, apart from using gloves, masks, eye protection, and gowns to prevent puncture wounds. The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act also requires employers to maintain a sharp injury log and take proper steps to reduce health care professionals’ exposure to such injuries.

If your hospital or medical center fails to use safe needles as required by the federal law, discuss the issue immediately with the authority. In addition, be careful while drawing blood from patients, especially those suffering from contagious diseases. The risk of injury is especially higher when working a double shift, at the end of a shift, and/or when staffing is low.

2. Use Proper Gloves to Avoid Latex Allergy

Latex allergy continues to be another key health hazard for health care workers. You need to use latex gloves while providing care to patients in order to prevent coming into contact with toxic and allergy-causing substances. Unfortunately, the powder that these gloves contain are toxic enough to cause a rash on your hands. Some of these incidents can be so severe that you can even suffer from anaphylactic shock.

Even if someone doesn’t develop latex allergy soon after using these gloves, there are always chances of developing them later, especially after prolonged use. According to Dr. Phillip Farthing, a medical doctor and an experienced Tampa medical malpractice lawyer, nurses have the right to ask their employers for powder-free gloves.

If, unfortunately, you have to continue working with powdered gloves, make sure you follow these safety guidelines:

•    Thoroughly wash and dry your hands soon after removing the latex gloves.
•    Don’t use oil-based lotions, especially those containing palm oil, coconut, lanolin, and mineral while at work, as these oils will eventually break down the glove barrier.
•    You should preferably wear cotton liners or synthetic gloves along with your latex gloves particularly for work that gets your hands wet.

If you already have latex sensitivity, it will become even more challenging for you to avoid further exposure. If the symptoms get worse, speak to your employer immediately and don’t forget to consult a doctor.

3. Don’t Tolerate Workplace Violence

According to OSHA, nurses are highly vulnerable to workplace violence, and such incidents are more likely to occur at times of high activity like meals and visiting hours or when staffing is low. Nurses working alone in remote locations as well as in high-crime areas are also susceptible to assault and violence. But before discussing that, let’s understand the nature of workplace violence in the health care industry.

The definition of workplace violence according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is as follows: It is the “physically and/or psychologically damaging actions that occur in the workplace or while on duty.” Such workplace violence is further classified into 4 categories:

•    Violence caused by customer/client (i.e., patient or patient party)
•    Criminal intent
•    Worker-on-worker
•    Personal relationship

Unfortunately, there is no federal law requiring workplace violence protections for nurses. That said, many states are now bringing regulations and/or have enacted legislation to prevent workplace violence.

There are few things hospitals and health care centers can do to prevent such incidents, and installing security systems to control access is definitely one of them. In addition, nurses and other health care workers must be diligent. Familiarize yourself with and be careful of patients who have a history of violent behavior, drug or alcohol intoxication, and/or dementia. Moreover, when working in an unsafe situation, have an escort (such as a security personal or even a fellow worker) who can raise alarm if your patient becomes aggressive.

Conclusion

It is no secret that health care workers are more vulnerable to safety issues than any other professionals. Nurses are exposed to various challenging situations and/or health/safety hazards since the first time they step into a medical facility. But there are ways to minimize and even prevent such risks and both the medical facilities and the healthcare workers must take responsibilities to ensure workplace safety. Be vigilant always and follow the guidelines provided by OSHA and other administration to make this constantly variable environment safe for all.

Should Nurses Consider Medical Malpractice Insurance, Too?

Should Nurses Consider Medical Malpractice Insurance, Too?

If you are a nurse, chances are this question has crossed your mind all too often. Although many nurses in the United States are covered under a medical malpractice insurance carrier, a significant number of nurses are not. But the truth is that a nurse can be sued for medical malpractice at any time. Even if the allegations are unfounded, it can seriously damage your reputation.

Many argue that the employer’s policy covers the nurses against medical liability as well. However, you need to understand that these policies are created to protect and fit the specific needs of your employers first.

Having your own policy not only covers you but also provides peace of mind during the most stressful times of your professional life. Let’s see why you should consider having nurses’ liability insurance just like any other medical professionals. But before that, let’s discuss what medical malpractice is and how it can affect your career.

What is Medical Malpractice and How Does It Affect a Nurse?

Medical malpractice is defined as the professional negligence or wrongful act or omission by any health care provider (including a physician, surgeon, nurse, and other medical professionals) due to which the treatment falls below the accepted medical standard. This may result in minor to severe injury or even death of the patients in some cases.

A malpractice case typically has three defining factors. These are:

  • A person (the doctor, nurse, care provider, or any other medical professional) who is responsible for a duty of care
  • His/her failure to provide that care
  • Bodily damage (including injury and/or death) of the patient due to the lack of appropriate care

To win a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff must prove that the health care provider failed to provide the accepted standard of medical care and there has been a breach of duty. In addition, the plaintiff needs to prove that the damage caused to the patient is directly related to this negligence or breach of duty.

Medical malpractice cases involving nurses can really get complicated, as they are usually the primary care providers for patients in hospitals. According to a combined report from CNA Insurance and Nurses Service Organization, there were “10,639 reported adverse incidents and claims” closed between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2014. The report analyzed and reviewed 549 nurse closed claims, out of which 88.5% were registered nurses, while the remaining 11.5% were licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses.

 

Closed Claims by Nurse Licensure Type

Source: Nurse Professional Liability Exposures: 2015 Claim Report Update, CNA and NSO

 

However, unlike surgeons and physicians, not all nurses carry nursing liability insurance as many of them largely depend on employer’s policies without realizing that it isn’t always enough.

You Need Something More Than an Employer’s Policy

As mentioned, an employer’s policy, first and foremost, protects the interests of your employer. So if you have been told that your employer’s policy will suffice in case of a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is only a fabricated truth. Chances are, they aren’t telling you that your employer wants their attorney to represent you in case of a medical malpractice lawsuit. Why? Because it is their attorney who will work for their best interests (and not yours).

When you have your own policy, it ensures that you will have your personal attorney representation who will be working to protect your best interests and specific needs. Besides, there are certain limits of liability applicable to malpractice insurance policies. Nurses who are covered only by their employer’s insurance share their liability limits with other defendants who are also protected under the same policy. This means your legal costs (which also includes the settlement amount) are likely to surpass the shared liability limits specified under your employer’s policy, if you face a legal suit. At times, it may even result to out-of-pocket expenses.

Moreover, your employer’s policy not only fails to cover the total award but also doesn’t remain effective after job termination. There are again certain types of employment such as contractual jobs, part-time, or agency employment where you are not entitled to receive a similar kind of coverage enjoyed by a full-time nurse. In some cases, the employer’s policy does not cover your personal fees.

Worst still, your employer too may file a lawsuit against you if they think it was your faulty actions that caused the patient harm. Such incidents are not unheard of, and your employer’s policy will be terminated in such cases.

Also, it is more than likely that your employer didn’t disclose the exact clause of the insurance coverage. So before you decide to solely depend on your employer’s policy, at least be sure about the kind of coverage to which you are entitled.

But Nurses Are Still Uninsured

Although having your own individual liability insurance has its own advantages, a significant number of nurses still shy away from carrying one. They usually give a myriad of reasons for going without—and most of them are basically myths.

For example, many believe that carrying a medical malpractice insurance will further increase their risk of being sued. This, however, holds no logical implications. How will the potential plaintiff know if you are covered under an individual malpractice insurance, unless of course you inform them voluntarily? This will only be revealed after the plaintiff had filed a lawsuit against you.

That said, you cannot overrule the fact that having an individual malpractice insurance will increase your chances of being in a lawsuit. Attorneys are likely to keep our name as a defendant(s) if they are aware of the fact that you have insurance coverage to pay for the settlements. Not having an individual liability insurance has benefited nurses in the past. Their names were often dropped out of a lawsuit as they lacked the deep pockets unlike surgeons, physicians, and hospitals.

However, it is still important for nurses to get individual medical malpractice insurance as a large number of medical complaints are being filed against these health care providers with the Board of Nurses (BON). Failing to fight the BON only means to agree to whatever restrictions they pose on their license.

Besides, your individual medical malpractice insurance covers legal fees and expenses that you need to incur when fighting against the BON. Some insurance will also cover your time lost from work and will also pay for your lodging and meals.

The Verdict?

Carrying your own medical malpractice insurance provides an added protection. This is especially applicable for nurses working in critical units and specialty areas. If you are grossly responsible for the plaintiff’s suffering and if he/she is awarded a settlement, your employer’s policy may not be enough to pay the damages and you may have to pay the compensation fully or partially. Worst still, it may drain all your saving as well as future earnings. Having your own liability insurance therefore ensures a peace of mind as you won’t be stripped of your personal savings and belongings even if you were responsible for the said medical malpractice.


Photo by burrows.nichole28