Research Urged to Improve MSD Reporting by Health Workers

More research, better occupational injury and illness surveillance by occupational health nurses, and action by state legislators and professional advocacy groups are needed to improve the scant data available for work-related musculoskeletal disorders among health care workers, an educator who has studied the problem extensively writes in the December issue of the AAOHN Journal. Dr. Nancy N. Menzel, Ph.D., RN, COHN-S, an associate professor of community health in the UNLV School of Nursing's Department of Psychosocial Nursing, says better data are needed because the WMSD problem in this population is significant and underreported, and also because a growing number of U.S. states are enacting safe patient handling laws that require hospitals and health care facilities to implement programs that reduce WMSDs.

Menzel's article lists several reasons why RNs, LPNs, and other health workers underreport WMSDs: Some have cited peer pressure and employer incentives not to report injuries, and others say they are frustrated with the workers' compensation process and prefer to self-manage their injuries by rescheduling shifts and taking vacation time. Modified duty programs at many health facilities may contribute to the underreporting, Menzel wrote.

Her article (December 2008, vol. 56, No. 12, pp. 487-494) includes a chart of recent state patient handling laws (Texas, Washington, Rhode Island, New York, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Maryland have enacted them, and eight other states' legislature have considered bills in recent years, she writes) and a chart listing 11 studies, many of them published in 2005-2008, that have confirmed significant underreporting in Bureau of Labor Statistics-reported estimates of injuries and illnesses.

Menzel (nancy.menzel@unlv.edu) is a Fellow of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses who has published articles in this and many other journals; her research focus is the health of workers, and she has conducted studies on preventing WMSDs in health care workers and collaborated in a NIOSH-funded project to revise the curricula of nursing schools to include safe patient handling principles.

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