What are the health hazards of being a nurse? Is nursing a dangerous profession? What health risks do nurses face on the job?
Every job has its hazards, including the nursing profession. Nurses are subject to various occupational hazards every day on the job, and these hazards can be pretty serious (even deadly). Here are five of the most common risks that every nurse will face.
Nursing Occupational Hazards and Health Risks
5. Combative Patients
Patients can become combative due to mental disorders, medication reactions, electrolyte imbalances, or an aggressive nature. I witnessed one patient who was on drugs, and the patient had a superhuman strength. The patient actually broke the bed restraints and ran down the hall naked. A male nurse had to essentially clothesline the patient and take them back to their room. Later,the patient had no recollection of the event.
Patients with mental disorders can suddenly snap or begin thrashing their arms around, which can get cause an injury.
Therefore, nurses always need to be on the lookout for combative patients.
4. Sharps Injuries
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about “385,000 sharps-related injuries occur annually among health care workers in hospitals.” Sharps injuries can include injuries from needles, scalpels, and other sharp objects. This is something I have experienced as a nurse.
I once had a patient who had an incurable infectious disease. As I was taking the trash out of the room, I felt a stinging sensation in my leg. I looked down, and it was a needle that another healthcare worker had improperly put in the trash.
I had to get testing over the next six months, but thankfully, I wasn’t infected with the disease that the patient had.
3. Toxic Substances (radiation, cleaners, drugs)
As a nurse, you’ll be in regular contact with toxic substances such as radioactive equipment (x-ray machines, radioactive chemical tracers), various medications, cleaners, and so on.
I can remember working one time in a stress lab, and I got squirted with radioactive liquid that they use for a stress test. I was several weeks pregnant at the time, too. I had to fill out an incident report and get testing done. My husband was really stressed over the whole incident. Thankfully, my baby was born health and happy, without any birth defects or problems.
Drugs are also very dangerous, and you’ll be removing nitroglycerin patches, administering medications such as chemotherapy, and hormones, and there is always a risk that you can come into contact with those medications and experience serious side effects.
2. Musculoskeletal Injuries
Nursing can be brutal on your body, especially if you work on a floor. Lifting and turning patients all day can leave you feeling exhausted and possibly injured. In addition, walking on a hard floor for 12 hours straight can also cause serious leg and back pain. (Tip: always wear good shoes and a pair of compression stockings!)
According to the CDC, “Rates of musculoskeletal injuries from overexertion in healthcare occupations are among the highest of all U.S. industries….the single greatest risk factor for overexertion injuries in healthcare workers is the manual lifting, moving and repositioning of patients, residents or clients.”
Therefore, it’s important to work as a team in nursing, as well as taking time to use proper lifting techniques, lifting tools (when necessary), or supportive braces.
Nurses have to perform skills like staring IVs, inserting Foley catheters, transfusing blood, and much more. You’ll be caring for patients with infectious diseases, including the flu, HIV, MRSA, pneumonia, flesh-eating bacteria, tuberculosis, and more.
As a nurse, you’re always going to be at risk for infection from some pathogen, so you always have to follow the latest safety protocols for your area, use good hand hygiene, wear PPE when necessary, and properly dispose of all equipment and bodily fluids.