Some say nurses are angels who face an endless list of hazards to provide care for their patients. Regardless of the role they play, all departments in the nursing profession pose multiple occupational risks. The inherent frantic pace in hospitals leaves nursing staff little time to take rest breaks, and even less time to consider their own safety and health.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandates that employers must protect workers against known safety hazards. If you are a nurse in Missouri, you might wonder what that protection consists of because of all the dangers with which you must deal during each shift for which you report.
The best person to protect you from harm might be you
You might find that understanding the dangers of your job, and knowing which hazards to look out for could be the best way to protect yourself. The following list contains the most common threats to your safety:
- Stress: Caring for sick or terminally ill patients can cause both physical and emotional stress -- especially if you work in the oncology unit.
- Excessive workload: The negative nurse-to-patient ratio in medical facilities is par for the course in this industry, and you will likely find yourself responsible for more and more patients.
- Shift work: The excessive workload will pose additional health hazards if you have to work extended shifts, and sometimes these turn into rotating shifts that cause additional physical and emotional stress. You might become fatigued, suffer chronic headaches, back pain, gastrointestinal illness, chronic pain, and all these can lead to depression.
- Needlestick injuries: Safety authorities say 800,000 accidental needlestick injuries occur each year, showing how common this type of injury is. Such an injury can expose you to many blood-borne pathogens like HIV and Hepatitis B and C.
- Infectious diseases: Because you care for patients with infectious diseases each day, you will also risk infection by various germs, viruses and bacteria. They include Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), hepatitis B, Clostridium difficile (C. diff), tuberculosis (TB), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and more.
- Back injury: If you do not learn proper lifting techniques, you will be a perfect candidate for back and other musculoskeletal injuries. Beware, though, if left untreated, it could put an early end to your career and leave you with chronic back pain.
- Cold sterilizing agents: Many of these pose risks, but you need to take particular care when you work with ethylene oxide, which is a carcinogen that can cause miscarriages. Another extremely dangerous agent is glutaraldehyde, used in many cleaning agents, and it can trigger asthmatic problems.
- Toxic chemicals: There is no shortage of hazardous chemicals in the nursing industry, with chemotherapy drugs posing the most severe risks.
- Radiation exposure: Radiation risks are not only present in the department of radiology and x-rays, but also in emergency departments, where precaution might not always protect you -- due to the frantic pace in the ER.
- Latex allergy: Although latex gloves prevent disease transmission, you could develop a latex allergy, which can cause dermatitis, asthma and, in severe cases, even anaphylactic shock.
- Violence: All medical facilities are vulnerable when it comes to violent patients or visitors, but the risks are higher if you work in the ER or a mental health facility.
Knowing about these hazards, and learning the OSHA safety standards and guidelines, will go a long way to protect you from work-related harm. However, if you do suffer an occupational injury or illness, help is available to recover medical expenses and lost wages. An attorney with experience in navigating workers' compensation benefits claims in Missouri can provide the necessary support and guidance.