NEW YORK NURSE: September 2011
Q.: There is so much emphasis on the safety of patients. But violence and other safety hazards are a major concern for nurses. I share the belief that it’s no longer acceptable to expect that getting hurt on the job is “just part of the job.” I’m wondering: What’s being done about making the workplace safe for nurses?
A.: The business of a hospital is taking care of patients, so it’s not surprising that we hear a lot about patient safety. The Joint Commission places a strong emphasis on patient safety and much of the orientation and training a nurse gets in a facility is geared toward providing safe patient care. So it sometimes seems that there’s not much focus on safety for nurses. However, there’s quite a bit of information available.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a general duty clause that requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace, including protection from violence. OSHA also has standards on respiratory protection and hazard communications.
The Joint Commission has a standard on disruptive behavior that requires a facility to have a written policy that defines and addresses lateral violence. New York State has a regulation for public-sector employees called the Workplace Violence Prevention Act. This regulation requires all pubic employers to conduct a risk-hazard assessment for violence and develop a written policy that address the risks, and provides strategies for education and mitigation. Also, New York State law makes assaulting a nurse who is on duty a Class D felony.
We’ve just passed the tenth anniversary of the Safer Sharps Device Act. This act, amended to the Blood Born Pathogen Standard, improved sharps safety for nurses and has significantly reduced the injuries from needle sticks and other sharps devices.
Safe patient handling legislation is pending in New York State and there is some movement at the federal level to enact an ergonomic standard on safe patient handling. In the interim, many facilities are implementing safe patient handling programs that greatly reduce lost time and career-ending injuries associated with traditional body mechanics handling of patients.
An active health and safety committee at your facility can offer additional opportunities to improve safety for nurses. Your advocacy, as part of a functioning committee, can vastly improve your working conditions.
The NYSNA EGW Program receives many inquiries each month from members who have problems in their workplaces. If you have a question about labor relations at your facility, contact your NYSNA nursing representative. If you have a question you think should be featured in this column, send it to: RNs at Work, NYSNA, 120 Wall Street, 23rd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10005.