The American Nurses Association (ANA) opposes any efforts to delay publication of OSHA''s proposed ergonomics standard, which the association says will protect nurses from disabling back injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
ANA testified at a July 13 Senate hearing on the impact of the ergonomics standard on Medicaid, Medicare and other health care costs.
ANA said it will continue to urge for the immediate publication of the standard.
"Every day, nurses suffer debilitating and often career-ending and life-altering injuries from lifting and moving patients," said ANA President Mary E. Foley, R.N. "We should not have to jeopardize our own health while caring for patients. We have been debating this standard for over 10 years while nurses continue to get injured."
Back injuries affect up to 38 percent of all nurses, according to ANA. Patient handling, transfer and manual lifting are significant risk factors for back injuries.
For example, Becky Rice, R.N. in Washington, D.C., was injured in February 1999 in the intensive care unit where she works.
She and another nurse assisted a patient who was comatose and on a ventilator to move up in bed. They positioned themselves and started to pull, only the patient didn''t move.
Rice experienced great pain and within days, required back surgery. She will require additional surgery and is still awaiting approval by workers'' compensation.
She cannot sit for more than 30 minutes and cannot stand for long periods of time.
"If the standard had been in place, my injury could have been prevented," said Rice. "Instead of being in pain awaiting my second surgery, I could be doing the job I love, caring for patients."
ANA said the science is clear, and there is strong data demonstrating the problem of overexertion injuries in hospitals, nursing homes and home care settings for over a decade.
In 1994, sixty-seven percent of the disabling injuries in nursing were due to sprains and strains, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
ANA noted that MSDs injuries are not only disabling to nurses but costs are extremely high to the health care industry.
"Costs include lost workdays due to injury and workers'' compensation," said Foley. "Institutions can save money and careers by implementing an ergonomics program recommended in the proposed standard."
The association said that an ergonomics standard would also promote high-quality patient care.
The use of lifting teams and devices would allow nurses to move patients in a safe and efficient manner, decreasing the risk of patient falls.
"While the debate about the ergonomics standard continues, thousands of nurses are being injured," said Foley. "The time is now for Congress to stop the politics and let OSHA step forward and protect health care workers from injury."
by Virginia Sutcliffe