Hearing on Ergonomics Safety in the Workplace, 7/20/01

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Nurse members from 3 state nurses associations call for action by the U.S. Department of Labor to prevent disabling back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders, 7/20/01, Chicago, Illinois. (statements below)

At a hearing on ergonomics safety in the workplace, American Nurses Association (ANA) representatives Maggie Flanagan, RN, Ann Converso, RN and Roslyn Muhammad, RN, today called for immediate action by the Department of Labor to issue a new ergonomics standard. The forum took place in Chicago and is one of three national forums scheduled by the Department of Labor. Speaking on behalf of the ANA and her constituent member association, the Alaska Nurses Association, Flanagan, told how she experienced serious back, neck and shoulder injuries that prohibited her from working for eight months. "Work shouldn't hurt," stated Flanagan during the forum. "American workers deserve workplaces where people are considered more 'valuable' than profits."

ANA representative Ann Converso and Rosyln Muhammad of the Illinois Nurses Association further echoed the need for a strong OSHA standard in her statement at the forum. Muhammad urged the Department of Labor to use the power in its hands to protect nurses and other workers. "Without a federal mandate in the form of an OSHA ergonomics standard, nurses cannot be assured of protection from ergonomic hazards in the workplace," stated Converso, a nurse for 25 years and vice-chair of ANA's, labor arm, United American Nurses. "We need the Department of Labor to take action to assure current and prospective nurses that they don't need to fear a disabling musculoskeletal disorder if they choose to work on the frontlines of health care."

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has estimated that nearly half of all workers in the health services industry, which includes RNs, will experience at least one work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) during their working lives. Studies of back-related workers compensation claims reveal that nursing personnel have one of the highest claim rates of any occupation or industry.

The ANA has long-supported an ergonomics standard and was shocked earlier this year when Congress voted to rescind the final OSHA ergonomics rule. Since March 2001, ANA has waited for the Department of Labor to fulfill its promise of pursuing a comprehensive approach to ergonomics so nurses will be protected. "The benefits of the ergonomic standard are logical, documented and proven," said ANA President Mary Foley, MS, RN. "With proper enforcement, ANA believes the ergonomic standard will not only prevent back injuries and musculoskeletal disorders, but will also improve patient care." "Additionally," said Foley, "in the face of a nursing shortage that is fast reaching crisis proportions, injuries are a major contributing factor to nurses leaving the profession. An ergonomics standard is badly needed not only to reduce the high number of disabling back injuries and MSDs experienced by nurses, but also to stem a mass exodus of nurses from direct care roles, which has resulted in part from a lack of workplace safety protections."