News Releases

Murray Works to Protect Nurses from Workplace Injuries

May 11 2010

Representatives from Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA Department of Labor attend hearing in D.C to discuss efforts to keep health care workers safe

Listen to Senator Murray's opening statement  |  Watch the hearing

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) chaired a hearing of the Senate HELP Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee to examine Safe Patient Handling & Lifting Standards for a Safer American Workforce. Murray called the hearing to work on ways to make sure that nurses in Washington state and around the country have access to the training and equipment they need to avoid injury to themselves and their patients.

Attending the hearing from Washington state were Dr. Barbara Silverstein, Research Director for Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, and June Altaras, the Administrative Nursing Director at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA. Silverstein and Altaras discussed their efforts to protect nurses in Washington state, and Murray questioned them on ways that their successes could be replicated.

Key excerpt from Senator Murray’s opening statement

“I believe that workers ought to be able to feel confident that while they’re working hard and doing their jobs, their employers are doing everything possible to keep them safe.  This should be true for miners, it should be true for refinery workers, and—as we will be focusing on today—it should be true for health care employees.”

“Nurses are the backbone of our health care system. But too often they are overlooked in discussions of workplace safety, even though their jobs are consistently ranked as one of the most danger-prone in the country.”

“So today we are going to examine the impact of the injury rates our nation’s healthcare workers sustain due to lifting patients. And we are going to hear from witnesses about some solutions being developed to promote safer workplaces for our nurses.”

The full text of Senator Murray’s opening statement follows:

“This hearing of the subcommittee will come to order.

“First, I’d like to thank Senator Isakson and his staff for being so collegial and courteous as this hearing came together. As always, I appreciate your work on the subcommittee. And I want to thank the witnesses who took the time to be here. I am especially excited to have two witnesses from my home State of Washington—we will hear from them shortly.

“Our county has had too many reminders recently about the critical importance of worker safety. We were reminded when 29 workers lost their lives in a coal mine in West Virginia. And when 7 passed away in a tragic oil refinery fire in my home state of Washington.

“These were truly tragic events—but we need to remember that no threats to worker safety are acceptable—whether they result in injury, or worse. And unfortunately, these threats are occurring all too often.

“I believe that workers ought to be able to feel confident that while they’re working hard and doing their jobs, their employers are doing everything possible to keep them safe.

“This should be true for miners, it should be true for refinery workers, and—the area we will be focusing on today—it should be true for health care employees.

“As we all know, nurses are the backbone of our health care system. But too often they are overlooked in discussions of workplace safety—even though their jobs are consistently ranked as one of the most danger-prone in the country.

“In fact, on the list of workers facing workplace-related musculoskeletal disorders, nurses rank as the leading victims—sustaining these injuries at a rate nearly seven times the national average.  And sadly, nearly half of nurses on the job report chronic back pain, and more than one in ten of them say they are planning to leave the field within the next year. 

“This costs hospitals and providers millions in worker compensation, overtime, replacement and training costs. And it devastates workers and their families—moms and dads who can’t pick up their children or grandchildren—and who can’t be physically active without constant pain.  And all this is coming at a time when we need our nurses healthy and on the job more than ever.

 “The need for registered nurses in the United States could reach as high as 500,000 over the next fifteen years, which would be especially devastating at the very time we are trying to bring millions of new patients into the health care system.

“So today we are going to examine the impact of the injury rates our nation’s healthcare workers sustain due to lifting patients. And we are going to hear from witnesses about some solutions being developed to promote safer workplaces for our nurses.

“It used to be the case that we didn’t have the research and equipment available to prevent lifting injuries. But now we know how to implement safe patient lifting policies—it’s just a matter of making sure it happens.

“We know that under ideal circumstances, a worker should only lift fifty pounds by his or herself. But there are few fifty pound patients, and they are rarely positioned in such a way as to make safe lifting easy.

“In fact, over the course of their average day, nurses often need to lift more total pounds than many truck drivers and construction workers!

“So it’s clear that we need proactive and cost effective ways to make sure nurses have the training and resources to handle patients in a way that is safe for them and safe for the patient.

“So our witnesses today will focus on safe patient handling—which has worked for the Veterans’ Administration, nine states—including my home State of Washington, and several hospitals systems.

“There’s no shortage of research or evidence about how this equipment works and how a program can be implemented, and there’s no question that it saves money, helps patients, and creates a safer work environment for patients.

“So the question remains: what does a federal solution need to look like?

“I am looking forward to hearing from our witnesses about this important issue.

“But before I introduce the first panel, I’d like to recognize Senator Isakson for his opening statement.”