How to Ensure Workplace Safety for Nurses

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Among all direct medical care workers, nurses are at the highest risk of exposure in a healthcare facility. Since the danger is directly connected to the very nature of their job, ensuring workplace safety needs to be a seamless, collaborative effort between management and the nurses themselves. As to what steps can be taken to make healthcare establishments a safer place for nurses, let’s take a look.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance for Nurses is a Mandatory Requirement

Workers’ compensation insurance is commonly associated with businesses that employ skilled and manual labor, but that’s not the full story. The legal mandates on workers’ compensation insurance requirements vary in the United States, depending on multiple factors such as:

  • The state’s jurisdiction: everything else is decided based on the concerned state’s workers’ comp insurance laws.
  • The concerned business’s employee strength: Any employer with less than five employees is exempted from the mandate in Alabama.
  • The nature of the business: Farm laborers are not covered under workers’ compensation insurance in Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, and several other states.
  • The employees’ employment status: Permanent, temporary, contractual, etc.

Nothing plays a bigger role in determining the need for workers’ comp insurance than the state jurisdiction. For example, workers’ compensation in California is a mandatory requirement for all healthcare employees in the state and there is no way around it.

Even if you employ only one part-time nurse, you must get an adequate type of workers compensation in California. Failure to do so is punishable by law, leading to up to one year in jail + $10,000 – $100,000 in fines. Besides, not providing workers’ comp insurance to nurses in the state will almost assuredly open the employer up to costly lawsuits.

There might be special provisions for nurses, but that varies with the chosen insurer and their policy. In general, workers’ compensation in California should cover medical treatment costs, temporary/permanent disability checks, supplemental aid for job displacement, and survivor benefits in case of work-related death.

Both the Availability and Usage of PPE Should be Mandatory

This is one of those scenarios where the healthcare facility’s management and employees must work in perfect collaboration to create the safest possible workplace for everyone. It’s the management’s responsibility to make sure all necessary PPE (personal protective equipment) is available for their nurses to use as needed. In fact, there should be clearly stated company policies in effect to prevent any nurse from entering a potentially contagious/hazardous environment, without the appropriate PPE.

Nurses are often some of the most qualified, knowledgeable, and experienced healthcare professionals working in any medical care establishment. Therefore, neglecting to use the right protective equipment should not be an issue. It should be noted that willful neglect of such important healthcare policies can be devastating for healthcare workers.

If there is proof to suggest that if a nurse neglected his/her duty to wear the appropriate PPE (if present), they may no longer qualify for worker’s comp insurance coverage. It also creates legitimate grounds for an employer to relieve a nurse from their post if their failure to comply with the PPE guidelines risks workplace safety.

Every Healthcare Facility Must Have Competent Security Professionals

It is one of the fundamental responsibilities of an employer to provide a safe workplace for their workers. While protective measures and equipment are meant to do just that against potential biohazards (pathogens, parasites, aerosol chemicals, drugs, needles, etc.), there is another, more direct aspect to it as well.

According to data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):

  • 21% of the current nursing force reported facing physical assault at the workplace between 2019 and 2020
  • 50% of the current nursing force reported being verbally abused in the workplace between 2019 and 2020
  • 12% of the nurses working in emergency care units report serious physical assault against them every week
  • Severe verbal abuse is reported by almost 60% of emergency care nurses per week

Note that these numbers represent pre-pandemic statistics and it’s no secret that the situation only became worse from that point on. Management must ensure the safety of their nurses and other healthcare workers by employing competent security professionals. Security professionals must have the training, knowledge, and experience necessary to diffuse violent situations before they can escalate out of control.

It is also advisable to teach de-escalation techniques to the nurses as well. There should be periodic programs to educate and train nurses so that they can protect themselves, as well as those around them in an emergency.

There should also be periodic reminders to highlight some of the same safety measures discussed here. Even experienced professionals can make mistakes, but the chances of such mistakes are lowered significantly with regular reminders. New recruits and trainee nurses must not be allowed to handle risky patient duties without experienced supervision.

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