For Immediate Release
January 26, 2011
Contact: Michelle Evermore 202-288-8561, Charles Idelson, 415-559-8991
The nation’s largest union and professional association of nurses today sharply criticized a decision by the U.S. Department of Labor Tuesday to withdraw a rule requiring employers to report musculoskeletal injuries to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“This is a disturbing sign that the Obama administration may be putting the economic interests of employers ahead of the safety of nurses and other working people,” said Karen Higgins, RN, co-president of the 160,000-member National Nurses United.
On the books for 30 years prior to the Bush Administration, the rule was pulled by the DOL, it said, at the request of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget so it could further confer with small businesses, even though the rule does not apply to businesses with fewer than 10 employees. That decision coincides with the recent announcement by the Obama administration that it intends to pursue deregulation of rules opposed by corporate interests.
“Nursing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States and nurses are especially subject to serious back and other musculoskeletal injuries,” said Higgins. “One step we can take to keep nurses safe and at work is to have an accurate picture of when and how they are hurt on the job.” Noting that nurses lift 1.8 tons on average per shift, Higgins called it “an injustice that such reporting has been eliminated in the past.”
Serious back injuries, typically caused by nurses having to lift often much heavier patients, can lead to permanent disability for nurses, which, in addition to the pain and suffering, increases overall healthcare costs as well as displacing experienced nurses from the work force.
“Current, accurate reporting will allow us to pinpoint causes of chronic disabling injury, such as on which shift nurses tend to be injured and which duties account for the highest number of injuries,” Higgins noted. “The rule is important to allow workers and hospitals to identify unsafe practices earlier and put in place corrective equipment and procedures, and then analyze whether such corrective interventions had a positive impact on worker safety.”
According to OSHA’s own guidelines for nursing homes: “early diagnosis and intervention, including alternative duty programs, are particularly important in order to limit the severity of injury, improve the effectiveness of treatment, minimize the likelihood of disability or permanent damage, and reduce the amount of associated workers’ compensation claims and costs.” Studies show that the average cost of a healthcare worker Musculoskeletal disorder per 100,000 hours work is in excess of $160,000. Reporting this data would help diagnose and prevent such injuries.
In addition to calling on the Obama administration to move forward to restore the rule, NNU is sponsoring legislation in Congress to require all hospitals to provide sufficient life equipment to reduce accidents that lead to both nurses’ injuries and accidents that endanger patients.