Important legislation to protect healthcare workers and patients signed into law

By Richard Negri

safe_lift_teri_nicholson.jpgWhen California Governor Jerry Brown signed the landmark Safe Patient Handling legislation (AB1136) into law this week, he took a huge step forward in preventing a staggering epidemic of workplace injuries among hospital workers in the state of California.

Though Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a version of the same bill, SEIU healthcare workers in California kept the drumbeat going.

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 44,000 healthcare workers had to take time off from work (lost time) due to injuries that occurred on the job. The only two occupations with more lost time due to on-the-job injuries were manual laborers and tractor-trailer drivers. Unsurprisingly, nurses have more work-related musculoskeletal injuries than any other trade, and California is leading the pack.

“There isn’t a nurse that I’ve met that doesn’t have a story of experiencing an injury while caring for a patient that took them off work either temporarily or permanently or at the very least isn’t dealing with chronic pain in their back, neck or shoulders,” said Ingela Dahlgren, RN, the Executive Director of the SEIU Nurse Alliance of California. “With this important legislation, not only will our patients be provided safer care, but hospitals will have the guidelines to better protect their employees and prevent career ending injuries.”

Better late than never!

“For more than a decade, mechanical lifting and transfer devices were proven to be remarkably effective in reducing injuries while simultaneously reducing serious patient skin tears and patients being dropped,” said Bill Borwegen, SEIU Director of Health and Safety.

California nurses and healthcare workers have always lead the charge for safer working conditions and patient care, whether through Nurse-to-Patient ratios, safer needle legislation or Airborne Transmissible Disease Standards, and now Safe Patient Handling isn’t just a hope–it’s a reality.

Washington State was among the first to enact Safe Patient Handling laws requiring the purchase of safe patient handling equipment and training programs was passed in Washington State in 2006. As a result of the implementation of this law, a January 2011 study found that neck, back and shoulder injuries to hospital workers caused by manual patient handling have decreased by more than one third.

California now joins Washington State and a half dozen other states where SEIU members have succeeded in passing Safe Patient Handling state laws. SEIU is continuing to work with legislators in other states to pass more Safe Patient Handling laws while pursuing passage of a federal law.

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