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Overweight population contributing to health care worker injuries

Minnesota nurses and other health care workers already face exposures to pathogens and sometimes violent patients. Now, an increasingly overweight and obese population may be contributing to musculoskeletal disorders because workers strain themselves while physically moving heavy patients.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched a nationwide investigation, through all 10 of its regional divisions, to address workplace hazards in the health care industry. According to the agency, health care workers have one of the highest rates of reported on-the-job injuries. OSHA plans to audit hospitals and residential care facilities with high accident rates and determine if appropriate safety measures are in place, specifically special lifting equipment.

At the Veterans Health Administration, injuries of hospital nurses dropped by an average of 40 percent after providing staff with ceiling hoists and transfer slings. Media reports, however, continue to find that many facilities have not invested in lifting equipment. Industry-wide, many hospitals still require nurses to work together to lift people with their hands, even people who weigh 300 pounds or more. An occupational safety researcher from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that nurses, the majority of whom are female, lift much more than some male-majority manufacturing professionals.

Like with any workplace accident, a worker injured in the health care sector would have a right to apply for the employer's workers' compensation insurance. This system is intended to cover medical bills and lost income arising from on-the-job injuries. Collecting the benefits, however, removes any option for filing a lawsuit against an employer. The injured person might also not be aware of what the insurance will cover. A conversation with an attorney could help the person understand what benefits are available. An attorney might also help prepare an application and urge the insurance company to provide an adequate payout.

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