Statement of Roslyn Muhammad, Illinois Nurses Association

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Good afternoon. My name is Roslyn Mohammed and I'm a registered nurse here in Chicago, a member of the Illinois Nurses Association, the United American Nurses and the American Nurses Association. I am the head of my household and my family depends on my full time income. However, my ability to earn a living is now being jeopardized because of the onset of a severe work-related musculoskeletal disorder.

I am here to address just one of the questions that the Department of Labor is asking - what can the government do address workplace ergonomics injuries. Today I urge the Department of Labor to make it mandatory for health care facilities to take action to prevent these disorders so that no other nurse has to go through what I am going through right now.

I have 15 years of experience as a registered nurse here in Chicago - 10 years at one hospital and 5 years at another. I've worked on medical surgical units, recovery rooms and I currently work in an intensive care unit. In all of these areas, patient care needs are unending.

To meet these needs requires constant lifting, pushing, pulling, stretching, reaching and bending. In an intensive care unit like mine, I'm on my feet for my full 12 hour shift with barely the time to eat. Nurses in my unit care for 2 critically ill patients. It's constant and repetitive activity - scanning the monitors, reaching for monitor controls and IV bags, bending to check drainage bags, reaching across the patient to turn them side to side, and using the leverage of our own bodies to pull patients up in the bed. If the patient undergoes diagnostic tests, the ICU nurses move them and their equipment.

In our unit, there are no mechanical lifts. There are no sliding boards or transfer devices. There is no lifting team. Virtually the only assistive device is the sheet positioned under the patient. There is one patient care assistant to help the primary nurses with 14 patients.

I like my work, feel like I'm a good nurse and a team player. Even in these stressful times, I feel like I try to be part of the solution not part of the problem. I'm an active member of my local bargaining unit and, until my injury, considered running for an officer of the unit.

Over the past year, as our full time nursing staff numbers have dwindled, I have volunteered to work overtime and night shift to help out our unit. I've even volunteered to come back to work for 11 to 7 shift at night after working 7 AM to 7 PM during the day. I think of this now because during the 2 months that I've been disabled due to severe back pain, not a single manager from my unit or hospital has called to inquire about how I am.

There is clearly a stigma attached to a work-related disorder like mine and I believe that OSHA and the Department of Labor have the power in their hands to prevent these disorders from occurring in the first place and educate workers and managers about the reality of these injuries.

I know you've heard from some other workers today and earlier this week. But I feel it's important to tell my story. I'm sure there are similarities with other workers stories and that is the shame of the whole situation.

Beginning a year ago, I began to experience more and more localized back pain both while I was working and when I was at home. Despite pain, I continued to work. On several occasions at work, I experienced increased pain after pulling patients up in bed. I filed 2 incident reports about this. Incident reports are the standard mechanisms at hospitals for documenting concerns about work-related incidents as well as patient care incidents. Because I filed these on night shift but the injury was not an emergency, the supervisor did not send me for treatment and did not even submit the report. I finally had to seek out my family physician to evaluate this back pain for me and now the hospital is disputing my musculoskeletal disorder. I have applied for workers compensation but I have found that there are no support systems to assist injured health care professionals while this claim is being initiated. A spinal fusion will be necessary.

The Department of Labor needs to take action. I'm an experienced nurse and I want to work. With the shortage of nurses, hospitals can't afford to lose a worker like me. You have the power in your hands to make good things happen for the workers of this country. Please make them happen.

A good ergonomics standard would educate and inform managers like mine that the early signs and symptoms of a musculoskeletal disorder need to be taken seriously and treated early.

A good ergonomics standard would inform workers like me that I have rights to prompt, competent and effective treatment.

A good ergonomics standard would force hospitals to correct hazards before injuries occur.

A good ergonomics standard would invite workers to be part of the solution and allow them to participate in the selection of control measures.

A good ergonomics standard would not allow these activities to be just options - together with strong enforcement, it would mandate that employers do the right thing and value the health and humanity of their workers.

Nurses are at risk for injury on a daily basis. Nursing is our livelihood. We choose this profession because of our passion to provide optimum patient care. Safety is one of our priorities. We ask you to work diligently to aid our efforts to eliminate painful musculoskeletal disorders by mandating that employers provide protections.

Thank you for your time.