Nurses at Risk: Top Causes for Nursing Workplace Injuries

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Overexertion, slips, trips, and falls, violence from patients and visitors, and contact with medical equipment are among the top causes of injuries among nurses. The very act of serving and caring for other people places nurses at risk for several injuries and illnesses. By understanding the workplace hazards that they face, health care workers can spot potential risks and avoid common dangers while on the job.


Overexertion injuries are one of the most common types of injuries suffered by nurses. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, they accounted for nearly half of the nonfatal injuries that nurses sustained in the United States in 2016.

Overexertion injuries are mainly caused by:

  • Excessive physical effort
  • Lifting
  • Twisting
  • Bending
  • Repetitive motions

For example, nurses can be injured in a nursing home setting because of manually lifting residents, repositioning them in bed, transporting them from one place to another, catching residents when they fall, and offering assistance for activities like toileting. It is estimated that a nurse in a nursing home may manually lift a cumulative weight of 1.8 tons in a typical workday.

Slips, Trips, and Falls

Slips, trips, and falls are common causes of injuries among nurses. Nurses spend many working hours walking, leaving them vulnerable to falls, slips, or trips. Most of the injuries sustained are caused by liquids like water, gel, body fluids, grease, and wax. Nurses aged 50 and above have the highest rate of falls, slips, and trips.

Contact With Equipment

Nurses sometimes sustain injuries because of contact with medical equipment or objects. They run into hanging equipment or collide with large medical equipment.

Used needlesticks can also expose them to injuries and illnesses caused by blood-borne pathogens like hepatitis and HIV. According to estimates, 600,000 to 800,000 needlestick injuries are sustained annually in the United States, half of which remain unreported. More than 1,000 nurses and other healthcare workers contract hepatitis B or C virus, HIV, or other serious infections from needlestick injuries every year.

Workplace Violence

Some studies suggest that violence against nurses and other health care workers has increased by 110% in the past decade. The most common type of workplace violence that nurses face is violence from visitors or patients.

Violence toward nurses is underreported for various reasons, including the profit-driven models of some hospitals, reluctance of management structures to hold patients accountable for inappropriate conduct, and report mechanisms being time-consuming or complex for nurses who tend to have many demands.

Exposure to Hazardous Substances

Nurses are exposed to substances associated with several health problems. These substances come in many forms. Some sterilants found in the cleaning equipment used by nurses have been linked to dermatitis, skin irritation, eye irritation, conjunctivitis, and asthma. Artificial fragrances and formaldehyde can trigger severe asthma attacks. Continued exposure to latex could cause skin irritation, asthma, and anaphylaxis in nurses with latex allergies.

When organizations take extra measures to help nurses avoid these hazards, such as purchasing equipment like transfer sheets and portable lifts, the whole health care system will benefit. Nurses will have more job satisfaction, which will positively impact the quality of care and patient outcomes.

Furthermore, research has shown that the costs to protect nurses from workplace hazards can be recovered in as little as five years through reduced staff injury and workers’ compensation costs, lower costs associated with patient pressure ulcers and a reduction in hiring costs due to lower turnover rates.