From hospitals and clinics to residential nursing facilities, the roughly 3 million registered nurses in the U.S. play a vital role in providing care to individuals from all backgrounds. Unfortunately, RNs also have one of the highest rates of workplace injury of any occupation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, nursing assistants experienced over 37,000 nonfatal injuries and illnesses that required at least some time away from work.

Nurses may perform a wide range of tasks that put their own health at risk. In addition to spending hours standing, walking and bending, RNs often assist in moving or lifting patients, potentially leading to joint or spinal damage. Additionally, nurses frequently face exposure to hazardous substances, such as drugs, radiation and infectious disease, and in some cases may need to calm or restrain a violent patient.

What are the most common types of injury?

Overexertion and bodily reaction are the two most common sources of injury among RNs, accounting for about half of all incidents. Nurses who work in long-term or acute care or who perform home healthcare services are especially at risk of musculoskeletal injuries due to the need for repetitive manual assistance that may lead to strains or sprains. Other types of workplace injury include:

  • Infectious disease: Whether through airborne infection, contact with bodily fluids or a needlestick injury, nurses risk contracting communicable illnesses, including hepatitis B, tuberculosis, MRSA and HIV.
  • Radiation: RNs who work in an emergency room, radiology department or other setting where x-rays commonly occur may experience effects from repetitive exposure to radiation, which some studies associate with increased susceptibility to reproductive disorders and certain types of cancer.
  • Violence: While those who work in emergency or psychiatric facilities are most likely to experience patient violence, RNs in any setting may have to restrain a distraught patient or even defend themselves against assault.

When an injury is debilitating, what are the options?

State law requires most businesses to carry workers’ compensation insurance, including hospitals and other care facilities. Nurses who experience injury on the job may be able to recoup the cost of medical care and lost pay during recovery by filing a compensation claim as soon as possible.