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International Nurses' Day: Common Health Hazards Faced By Nurses

On 12 May every year, International Nurses Day (IND) is observed to recognize the contribution of nurses to society. This day has been celebrated by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) since 1965. In 1953, Dorothy Sutherland, an official in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, proposed that Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaim a "Nurses' Day"; but declined.

In 1974, 12 May was chosen to commemorate Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, as it is her birth anniversary. The theme for International Nurses Day 2022 is Nurses: Make a Difference.

Common Health Hazards Faced By Nurses

As a result of daily interactions with sick patients and working in potentially dangerous environments, nurses have a higher risk of contracting illnesses and injuries. Nurses in any healthcare setting are at risk of contact with bodily fluids, sharp objects, radioactive materials, toxic chemicals, and drugs.

Stress may also be caused by difficult co-workers, unsupportive managers, or a lack of resources. In addition, nurses are often faced with distraught, angry or hostile patients. Several hazards in the workplace pose risks to nurses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that musculoskeletal disorders are a major concern in occupational healthcare for nurses. Nurses are often exposed to physical hazards due to the following reasons [1][2]:

  • Manual lifting when transferring or repositioning patients
  • Awkward positions at work
  • Lifting or moving obese patients with difficulty
  • Standing and walking for a significant amount of time

Additionally, there are physical dangers associated with certain patient populations, such as psychiatric wards, emergency rooms, waiting rooms, and geriatric units. For example, according to the CDC, nurses are more likely than other healthcare workers to face workplace violence. Other risks include the following [3]:

  • Minor and serious physical injuries.
  • Temporary and permanent physical disability.
  • Psychological trauma.
  • Dermatitis resulting from hand hygiene.
  • Illnesses caused by infectious agents. Reports show that nurses are often exposed to Hepatitis B, MRSA, tuberculosis, and HIV and estimate that 800,000 healthcare workers are exposed to blood-borne pathogens every year because of needlestick injuries [4].
  • Latex allergy can result in dermatitis if it is a mild allergic reaction, while anaphylaxis can result from a severe allergy. Latex gloves can be replaced with vinyl gloves when clinicians are allergic.
  • Radiology nurses and emergency room nurses may be at higher risk of exposure to radiation than the average nurse [5].
  • Chemotherapy drugs and sterilizing agents pose serious health risks to nurses.

How Can Nurses Stay Safe To Avoid Workplace Hazards?

Nurses must stay aware of problematic situations and not rush through tasks to reduce risk and prevent accidents. According to health authorities such as the CDC and WHO, here are a few tips for staying safe and avoiding hazards [6].

  • When lifting or moving patients, always seek assistance and use proper body mechanics.
  • Use best practices when handling sharps. For example, nurses should not recap or bend used needles. The CDC recommends nurses use safety devices and dispose of sharps in a labelled, leak- and puncture-proof container.
  • Wear protective equipment and clothing. Goggles, masks, gloves, face shields, and respirators provide nurses with an effective barrier to bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
  • Observe safety precautions, policies, and procedures.
  • During patient care, remove any obstacles and wipe up wet surfaces to reduce the risks of tripping.
  • Monitor radiation exposure.
  • Don't forget to take care of yourself. Take time out of the workplace to relax to provide your patients with quality care.

On A Final Note...

Nurses who are healthy, well-rested, and safe have a higher level of job satisfaction. And this will be advertently reflected in their patient outcomes and quality of care.

Story first published: Thursday, May 12, 2022, 12:09 [IST]