A new study shows mandated staffing levels in acute-care hospitals have decreased injuries among registered and licensed practical nurses. Is there take-home from this study for other occupations as well?
California’s Nurse-to-Patient Ratio Law and Occupational Injury, published in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, shows a 2004 state law significantly lowered job-related injuries and illnesses for RNs and LPNs.
The reduction was about one-third:
- from 176 injuries and illnesses per 10,000 RNs to 120 per 10,000, a 32% reduction, and
- from 244 per 10,000 LPNs to 161 per 10,000, a 34% reduction.
Even the study’s authors are surprised by the size of the reduction.
California is the only state with a law mandating specific nurse-to-patient staffing standards in acute care hospitals.
Hospitals in other states have argued against extending the law because of increased costs of additional nursing staff.
The California law was originally passed to benefit patient health. There’s no consensus on whether that’s been the case. Some studies show improvement, others don’t.
But the study’s authors point out that the results point to something just as important: increased safety and health for nurses and lower workers’ compensation costs.
What caused the drop?
The study’s authors speculate improved staffing ratios produce fewer nurse injuries and illnesses in a number of ways, including:
- back and shoulder injuries could be prevented because more nurses are available to help reposition patients in bed, and
- there are fewer needle-stick injuries if nurses conduct blood draws and other procedures involving bloodborne pathogens in a less time-pressured manner.
And there’s the potential link to other occupations. At your workplace, could you imagine having more staffers and/or less time pressure could reduce occupational injuries? Would the cost savings associated with fewer injuries exceed the extra costs of additional employees?
Have you experienced a situation in which staffing levels made a difference – one way or the other – with employee injuries? Let us know in the comments.
(This study was funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the California Department of Public Health.)