When considering hazardous occupations where injuries are frequent, job titles such as police officer, construction worker and truck driver immediately come to mind. As of 2010, however, the job with the highest number of injuries per 10,000 full-time employees was none of the above. Nursing assistants and orderlies got hurt on the job more than any other profession. Back injuries from transporting patients were cited as the top medical complaint from these healthcare professionals.
The healthcare industry, particularly nursing, is an alluring field to work in for many reasons. Jobs are abundant, pay and benefits are strong, employees are not tied down to a specific geographic location, and with the vast number of specialties and degree programs available, career paths are nearly limitless. A job as a nursing assistant can serve as a foot in the door for young people or career changers; many of them advance their careers by taking classes to become nurses. However, the data illuminating the physical dangers that nursing assistants face is enough to make many potential employees reconsider their options, and as a result, industry leaders are taking steps to make the job safer.
The majority of injuries to nursing assistants result from the strain of moving patients. Few methods exist to mitigate the pressure that lifting and transporting an inert human body puts on a healthcare worker's back. Unlike competitive weightlifting, in which proper form and body mechanics enable athletes to lift staggeringly heavy loads with relative safety, the asymmetry and awkwardness of the human body preclude its ability to be carried without major strain, no matter how much attention is given to proper technique.
Many hospitals and healthcare providers have responded to this injury crisis by investing in machines that help lift and transport patients, minimizing the physical exertion required by human workers. While such technology has proven to be effective, with injuries to nursing assistants dropping by as much as 80 percent in organizations using it, its high costs and limited supply have created barriers to its widespread implementation.
Even as technology for transporting patients improves, other dangers lurk for nursing assistants. Many of them are required as part of their daily job duties to tend to patients' bodily fluids, including blood, feces and vomit. Although safety measures, such as gloves, masks and other protective gear, minimize the chance of infection, such methods are not 100-percent foolproof. Fortunately, technology is also making gains on this front. Select hospitals have started using robots to transport hazardous items, such as blood samples and bodily waste.
Much like police officers, fire fighters and other hazardous occupations, prospective nursing assistants must weigh the risks against the rewards when choosing their careers. The rewards, which are many, include job security and the joy of saving lives. While the risks are also substantial, the good news is that the industry is being proactive in mitigating these dangers.
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