California governor signs law to protect nurses from back pain, other injuries

Oct 11 2011
A new law signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown will help protect nurses from disabling injuries, including back pain, caused by mishaps that occur while lifting patients. The new rules may also potentially prevent patient falls.

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU) has made several attempts in the past to push for reform, including versions of the bill that were vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The current rendition, AB 1136, requires hospitals in California to have a safe patient handling policy, including specially trained "lift teams" that use equipment to move patients.

Several states in the country have similar laws, and hospitals that have implemented lift teams have seen a drop in injuries, according to CNA/NNU.

The spinal column consists of the vertebrae, the facet joints and the intervertebral discs that stabilize movement. Back pain is the result of injury, disease or age-related degeneration to any of these structures, as well as the surrounding ligaments and muscles. One type of injury that can occur is strain caused by overactivity or improper lifting technique.

In 2008, about 36,000 healthcare workers injured themselves while trying to lift and move patients, said the CNA/NNU, adding that nurses have more musculoskeletal injuries than truck drivers or construction workers. Nurses' surveys have shown that 83 percent of them work despite having back pain. About 12 percent of those surveyed left their jobs in part because of back injuries.

"California's nursing workforce is aging at the same time patient acuity and obesity are rising," said Bonnie Castillo, legislative director of CNA/NNU. "Manual lifting can injure fragile patients by putting too much pressure on sensitive joints and compromised skin. This is a great step forward to protect our nurses and other healthcare workers from injury, and provide patients with safe and appropriate care."

There are several things people can do to help avoid back injuries, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Proper lifting techniques should bear most of an object's weight on one's hips or legs. Furthermore, there are various exercises individuals can do to strengthen the muscles in their back and abdomen.