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Emergency nurses play an important role in healthcare. They treat or attend to patients who are suffering from severe medical complications, injuries, and trauma and require urgent treatment. They work in clinics, hospitals and other areas where emergency medical situations may arise. Unfortunately, emergency nurses also have to cope with a wide range of hazards on the job. Some of the hazards that emergency nurses face include:
Exposure to Pathogens
Exposure to infectious diseases is probably the biggest hazard that emergency nurses face every day. Considering that ER nurses have to handle hundreds of patients every day, there is a high chance that they will encounter a wide range of liquids such as saliva and blood. For instance, emergency nurses are at a higher risk of contracting Hepatitis B or HBV than nurses working in other areas. Emergency nurses are also at risk of contracting tuberculosis and HIV, among others. As an emergency nurse, you may also prick yourself with a needle accidentally, which may be carrying hundreds of pathogens or contaminants. And unfortunately, some illnesses such as HIV don’t have a cure.
According to the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), nurses, including emergency nurses, are exposed to a wide range of occupational obstacles and physical injuries. For instance, emergency nurses may be asked to lift or move a patient from one area of the hospital to the other. As a result, they may end up with muscle strains, sprains as well as muscular injuries. And when such injuries occur, the nurse might be forced to take some time off, which will, in turn, affect patient care. Besides that, emergency nurses who suffer from physical injuries may experience chronic pain, thus affecting their productivity and job performance. Emergency nurses also work in wet and slippery surfaces. Therefore, they are continually exposed to slips, trips, and falls. And these hazards can lead to short-term and long-term injuries and health complications.
While radiation is odorless, tasteless and invisible, emergency nurses are exposed to this risk every workday. This radiation may come from CT scans, X-rays, bone scans, PET scans as well as fluoroscopy. Exposure to radiation can lead to diarrhea, nausea, weakness, bone marrow suppression as well as congenital defects in offspring. As much as nurses are trained in radiation safety, it’s not always possible to avoid the exposure completely, due to the nature of their work. For example, an emergency nurse may be asked to hold or support a patient as they undergo radiography, leading to exposure.
Emergency nurses also face the risk of workplace violence. Possible sources of workplace violence for emergency nurses include fellow workers, intruders, visitors, and patients. Working with patients who have a history of violence or those under the influence of drugs are all potential sources of workplace violence for nurses. A patient may also attack you when you are moving, lifting, or transporting them. Also, a patient’s family member may become violent and attack a nurse, if they feel as if the nurse is not doing enough to save their kin’s life. Workplace violence can lead to physical injuries, stress, and fatigue.
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities are filled with various types of hazardous chemicals. These chemicals include anesthetic gases, residues from medications, disinfecting and sterilizing chemicals, latex, cleaning chemicals, hand, and skin disinfectants, as well as mercury and chemicals escaping from damaged or broken medical equipment. Exposure to these hazardous chemicals can lead to increased rates of asthma and cancer. Also, emergency nurses who are pregnant at the time of exposure may end up having children with birth defects. Emergency nurses can also develop latex allergy, which may end up causing severe dermatitis.
Stress and Overwork
Emergency room nurses attend to patients who are suffering from injury, trauma and severe medical conditions. For instance, you may be required to attend to accident victims, gunshot wounds or accidents from farm equipment. Therefore, they are exposed to a wide range of traumatic events and situations. As much as ER nurses are trained to handle such distressing events, it’s not always easy to cope with all of them. Every once in a while, you will encounter a situation that will stress you out or give you nightmares. Apart from that, emergency nurses may sometimes be required to put in long shifts, especially after a serious accident has occurred. The combined occupational stress and overwork may lead to depression, fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal distress, and other health problem. Burnout is also a common challenge that emergency room nurses face.
Mitigating Workplace Hazards
Without a doubt, emergency nurses face a wide range of workplace hazards. And these hazards can lead to injuries, illnesses, reduced productivity, depression and other serious complications. The good news is that most workplace hazards that emergency nurses face can be reduced or even prevented, through various measures and strategies. Here are some tips that can help to reduce and prevent occupational hazards for emergency nurses.
Using Proper Gear
Using proper nursing gear can help emergency nurses to work efficiently and effectively while helping to protect them against workplace hazards. Some of the most important types of gear that all emergency nurse should own include:
- Scrubs: Scrubs are standard uniform for nurses, in most healthcare facilities. In some facilities, you will just be required to wear a white lab coat over your ordinary clothing. Apart from helping to maintain a professional look, scrubs are also easy to clean, comfortable to walk in and antimicrobial, thus helping to minimize the spread of diseases and pathogens.
- Professional nursing shoes: Nurses spend an average of 12 hours or even more on their feet during an ordinary workday. A typical shift will involve lots of walking, standing, or even lifting patients. Therefore, breathable, comfortable, and lightweight work shoes, with great support and reliable traction are essential.
- Compression socks: As highlighted above, nurses spend a considerable amount of their time on their feet. Prolonged standing can lead to swelling, and other forms of discomfort on the legs and feet. Compression socks can help to boost circulation and alleviate such problems.
Safe Patient Handling
Safe patient handling can also help to reduce physical injuries. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities need to train all their nurses regularly on safe patient handling procedures.
Emergency nurses spend most of their time moving from one place to another, running, bending, standing and stretching, thus exposing themselves to potential slips, trips, and falls. They also lift and move patients, which may lead to back injuries. Emergency nurses are exposed to various hazardous materials and substances. Since these hazards can lead to illnesses, injuries and serious medical complications, all healthcare facilities should put in place adequate measures that can help to minimize or even prevent these risks.