A recent investigative series by National Public Radio (NPR) highlights the lack of on-the-job safety faced by nurses around the United States. According to the NPR reports, nurses suffer more work-related injuries than construction workers, and the situation is only getting worse.

In one NPR story by Craig Lemoult, astounding and dismaying statistics lay it on the line: "According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 2,800 healthcare workers in private hospitals in Massachusetts missed work in 2013 because of a musculoskeletal injury. And support positions like aids and orderlies were four times more likely to miss work because of this kind of injury than the average worker."

Following up Lemoult's story was a second NPR offering by Daniel Zwerdling, entitled "Hospitals Fail To Protect Nursing Staff From Becoming Patients." The article elucidates that construction workers are provided a far greater of level of protection from workplace injury than healthcare workers, with nurses and aides suffering astronomical levels of injury due to the increasing weight of the patients for whom they provide care, among other factors.

"Whereas some construction workers are prevented from lifting more than 35 pounds while on the job, according to research, nurses and healthcare workers are often attempting to transfer patients weighing in excess of 300 pounds without the availability of appropriate transfer equipment," Zwerdling writes.

"According to surveys by the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are more than 35,000 back and other injuries among nursing employees every year, severe enough that they have to miss work."

Further research demonstrates that nurse aides experience the highest rate of on-the-job industry in the United States, "followed by warehouse workers, truckers, stock clerks and registered nurses." And one underlying issue is the lack of appropriate equipment for the safe transfer of patients in a variety of healthcare settings, especially the acute care hospital.

Inaction abounds

Apparently, Congress has been woefully slow to act vis-à-vis legislation that would mandate specific protections against the injury of healthcare personnel, and the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) has essentially had its hands tied in this regard via lawsuits and congressional inaction.

Meanwhile, some facilities and health systems have flouted actual legislation enacted to protect healthcare workers, an example being California's Hospital Patient and Health Care Worker Injury Protection Act of 2012. And in Massachusetts, potential legislation apparently continues to "not pass go" based on lobbying and opposition by the Massachusetts Hospital Association.

Inaction, financial concerns, confusion and outright lack of regard for workers' well-being are certainly at play, as is long-held ignorance that "proper body mechanics" are actually helpful in preventing injury.

Healthcare workers must speak out

If healthcare workers want the necessary protections and equipment to increase their own safety — and the safety of their patients more voices will apparently need to be raised in support of such measures. While nurses may complain to one another regarding injuries, it will take more than complaints, anecdotes and gossip to move the needle on this weighty issue.

Since money talks, data regarding disability claims, sick time, missed shifts, and injury severity and frequency must be collected and collated. This information must subsequently be presented as evidence of a problem in need of a multifaceted solution.

Nurses and those on the front lines must enlist the support of managers, supervisors, administrators and executives within the facilities where they are employed. Further, they also need to partner with professional associations, trade groups and other interested parties who should also have a seat at the proverbial table. Simultaneously, nurse leaders, nurse managers and C-level nurse executives can agitate for change within the system, supporting their nurses by leading the charge for increased safety.

And when it comes to legislative action, constituents must take it upon themselves to educate their legislators regarding the dangers of patient care, the frequency and severity of injuries sustained by healthcare workers, and the human and financial costs of such injuries.

The proof is in the pudding

Administrators and bureaucrats may say the right things when discussing the prevention of healthcare workplace injuries, but action on the ground is the proof that workers need and should demand.

Proper equipment, appropriate training, adequate staffing and other factors all deserve attention. Whether workplace injuries are decreased via legislative action or the actions of individual facilities, healthcare workers deserve protection against workplace injuries, and there is no reason why the horrendous statistics quoted above cannot be changed in short order.

An aging and growing population deserves high-quality medical and nursing care, and the personnel delivering that care deserve high-quality protection from unnecessary injury and disability.