The Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that most registered nurses face significant workplace injury risk. For traditional employment situations, workers’ compensation might provide enough coverage so RNs can get back on their feet.
However, the healthcare industry has been trending away from traditional employment for quite some time. Nurses, in addition to physicians and specialists, now routinely work in temporary or contractor positions.
The safety situation
The BLS study found that nearly 20,000 non-fatal RN injuries and illnesses occurred over the course of a year in private institutions alone. All of these required at least one day off of work.
In an increasingly strained healthcare system that subjects nurses to long hours and demanding schedules, even one day off of work could disrupt routine and lower the quality of patient care.
Furthermore, the study found that about half of the injuries affected long-term workers — those who had been with the employer for over 5 years. Even the temporary loss of these key workers could severely reduce hospital efficiency.
A case for personal injury law
For those who do not benefit from long-term employment, there is a different type of risk: lack of access to the Workers’ Compensation system. As explained on FindLaw, several jurisdictions exempt contract workers from coverage.
Although this exemption could expose healthcare employers to greater costs per injury — personal injury cases often recover damages for pain and suffering, unlike workers’ comp — that would require injured workers to pursue civil suits. It is quite possible for short-term workers to capitulate to agreements that fall far short of maximum compensation, especially after combined pressure from staffing agencies and hospitals.
Contract employment should be a way for hospitals to get the expertise and staff they need to provide excellent patient care. It should never be a workaround to minimize human-resources risk. Instead of staff reorganizations, these well-funded, powerful organizations should focus on reducing the risk of nurse injuries at their facilities.