From providing routine care to assisting in emergency medical procedures, nursing aides may take on a wide variety of roles that are vital to patient health. Unfortunately, these important caregiving duties may put nursing assistants at higher risk for occupational injuries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 health care aides experienced over 37,000 injuries and illnesses that required time away from work.
In addition to the stress of long, often physically demanding hours and the necessity of manually lifting or moving patients, nursing assistants may find that their tasks expose them to excess radiation, communicable disease or even patient violence.
The frequent need to lift, transfer or reposition patients may lead to musculoskeletal damage, especially to the lower back, shoulders and neck. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that musculoskeletal disorders are one of the leading occupational hazards that nursing aides face. MSDs led to over 18,000 days of employee absence in 2015 alone. Home health care workers and assistants in long-term care facilities, emergency departments and diagnostic units may be especially at risk.
Nursing aides whose duties include assisting with X-rays, CT scans, PET scans, fluoroscopy procedures or brachytherapy may risk overexposure to radiation. In addition to the potential for acute symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, dermatitis or erythema, long-term radiation exposure may lead to skin or bone cancers, leukemia and an increased risk of birth defects.
Whether through skin-to-skin contact, exposure to bodily fluids, airborne pathogens or a needlestick injury, nursing assistants have an increased risk of contracting an infectious disease. Examples of communicable illnesses commonly present in health care settings include hepatitis A, B and C, tuberculosis, influenza, syphilis and HIV.
In recent years health care workers have drawn increased attention to the prevalence of patient violence, from severe verbal abuse to assault. While psychiatric aides and those working in emergency departments have a higher likelihood of encountering violent patients, assistants in any setting may find themselves dealing with a distraught or uncontrollable individual.