Nursing can be one of the most rewarding career paths, but is also one of the riskiest to health and body. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 more than half of all injuries to RNs required a median recovery time of seven days away from work.
This means that nurses could potentially have a greater risk of workplace illness or injury than construction workers, manufacturers, and miners. Along with musculoskeletal concerns — that is, potential injuries that affect muscles and bones — faced by many sectors, healthcare has its own unique hazards dealing with things like pathogens, radiation, and mental health.
As you enter your career in nursing, remember to protect yourself with these four steps.
Stay on your feet with quality sleep
Healthcare professionals often work at unusual hours, like the early hours of the morning or all through the night. Working irregular shifts interrupts the body’s circadian rhythms, lowering your immune system and increasing the risk of work-related accidents.
You might think you can simply catch up on the sleep you’ve missed, but studies show this sleep is generally poorer than the hours you’d typically rest at night. It’s important to make sure you receive quality sleep when you can. Sleep quality can be improved by keeping your room dark, cool, and noise-free.
Some experts even suggest that shift workers shouldn’t accept overtime and should only work eight-hour shifts where possible.
Follow radiation safety guidelines
X-rays help healthcare workers identify injuries and medical conditions, but they also carry a radiation risk.
WebMD claims they make up around 35% of all radiation exposure in the average American, an increase from around 11% in the early 1980s. Given their proximity to X-rays, healthcare workers are at a much greater risk of radiation exposure than the general population. Radiation can increase the risk of developing cataracts, skin burns, and cancer.
Nurses should minimize time spent working in radiation zones and keep their distance from the source of radiation. Protective clothing including lead aprons, thyroid shields, and lead gloves can also shield the body from radiation. Make sure your workplace has radiation standards in place with regular training and reviewing.
Protect yourself from accidental exposure
Nurses may become ill when exposed to biological agents, such as bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. This exposure can be unintentional, from lab workers examining pathogens to a nurse getting a needle-stick injury from a needle containing a bloodborne virus.
Steps should be taken to minimize accidental exposure. The American Red Cross, for example, provides bloodborne pathogens training for professionals who may be faced with risky procedures like cleaning blood spills and sharps disposal.
Make sure you work in an environment with access to safety equipment including gloves and glasses for your protection. Also, ensure you have all your necessary shots. In some cases, vaccines may protect workers from common biological agents like hepatitis B.
Make sure to stay on top of your own mental happiness
Nurses are considered one of the first lines of defense in helping to contain the spread of many dangerous illnesses. Long hours, the emotional toll of watching patients suffer, added responsibilities in stressful times, and high expectations can easily manifest in unseen ways — and may not be evident until it’s too late.
In fact, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) nearly 87% of all nurses have experienced moderate job stress at some point in their careers. Stress and anxiety can cause a nurse to lose focus, which could have consequences for either them or their patients. Having a healthy balance between work and leisure time can help to establish a positive equilibrium.
Seek workplace safety training
Nurses have a physically demanding job lifting and moving patients who can’t support themselves. However, proper training to minimize stresses and strains can help prevent many workplace injuries. While this training is mandatory for most healthcare staff, it helps to brush up on your technique by reviewing materials at your local library or job site.
While these hazards make healthcare a dangerous sector, the risks can be minimized. Practicing these steps can make healthcare workers feel more confident and comfortable in their high-risk environment and enjoy the rewards of their vital labor.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational injuries and illnesses among registered nurses”
National Institute of Health, “The Relationship between Nurse’s Job Stress and Patient Safety”