One thing that I have noticed during my career as a New York Workers’ Compensation attorney is the high rate of incidents involving nurses with back injuries. One may not immediately associate back injuries with nursing, but one need only stop to think for a second about all of the potential hazards nurses face during the course of their employment.
Lifting patients, having patients pull on the nurse, falls due to hazards in the room such as wet floors, and the strain of bending over numerous times to care for patients are all substantial risks for nurses. Amazingly enough, nurses suffer back injuries at a higher rate than construction, mining, or manufacturing workers! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released numerous studies supporting this claim.
When it comes to nursing staff who have more direct patient contact, such as orderlies, Licensed Practical Nurses or Certified Nurse’s Aides, the incidents are even higher. Unlike a registered nurse, orderlies, LPNs and CNAs do not have the ability to perform light-duty work. Their essential job functions require them to be able to lift patients. The practical effect is that when a nurse suffers a serious enough back injury, oftentimes they can no longer be the employed in that same line of work. Not only will they have a significant loss in immediate income, but they will also lose paid time being retrained into an area of nursing that does not require patient lifting or, sometimes, into a new industry altogether that would not expose the worker to further back injury.
From a Workers’ Compensation perspective, back injuries frequently result in the injured worker having a permanent partial disability. For nurses who are unable to be retrained, the damages to the wage capacity of the nurse are profound. Not only will the nurse have in excess of 560 weeks of compensation due to be paid to the New York Aggregate Trust Fund (ATF) at the time of classification for a permanent disability, but the employer is also responsible for the nurse’s lifetime medical expenses arising from the back injury. The medical costs for a back injury can skyrocket over the course of time. When there is an injury to a specific level within the spine, oftentimes the levels adjacent to that level eventually wear and require treatment as well. This can have the effect of increasing the classification rate and the additional exposure of the cost of that medical care. One estimate from the CDC in 2009 put the cost of back injuries to healthcare professionals at $20 billion dollars annually.
The CDC (http://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2008/09/22/lifting/) has released recommendations to limit exposure to back injuries. There are numerous methods that healthcare facilities can implement that will limit the possible risk of back injury to nurses. Unfortunately, even with the best standards of practice within the nursing industry, accidents will. Implementing training on proper lifting, using Hoyer lifts, having multiple people lift patients, and spreading out the workload of the most difficult cases, are among the ways that healthcare facilities can reduce the possibility of back injuries. [i]
As most people are aware, the demand for nurses remains at an all-time high. By implementing these safety precautions, hopefully the industry can keep some of its most valuable assets.
Retraining injured healthcare professionals may be the best way to keep the person productive in the field, ease the need for qualified nurses and to increase the injured worker’s earning potential. I also believe that the healthcare facilities should be encouraging strengthening of back muscles and flexibility by offering free gym memberships or classes in their facility to facilitate prevention of back injuries. From a cost perspective, the potential for back injuries would be reduced from this ounce of prevention. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has had numerous studies to attempt to limit the occupational back injury exposure to nursing assistants, aides and orderlies. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8728153.
Frequently, there is no specific incident that causes the back pain. The injured worker may not even realize that his or her back pain is work-related. When a nurse is suffering back pain, he or she should not only contact an orthopedic doctor, but should also contact an attorney for consultation on whether the injury may be compensable under Workers’ Compensation laws. The law imposes strict deadlines on claimants. If the healthcare professional does not have his or her case pursued correctly from the beginning, the professional may not be able to bring the case later.
If you are a nurse and suffered back pain as result of your employment or a work injury, please contact an attorney near you to discuss bringing a Workers’ Compensation case.
This article is brought to you by the Snyder Law Firm, PLLC and authored by David B. Snyder, Esq., an attorney with over ten years experience in Workers’ Compensation Law. The Snyder Law Firm, PLLC located at: 6876 Buckley Road, Syracuse, New York 13212. The Snyder Law Firm represents clients throughout the Central New York region at the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board. This article constitutes attorney advertising and is not intended to provide professional advice concerning specific Workers’ Compensation Claims.