Saying huge numbers of on-the-job injuries from lifting and turning patients causes ever-increasing legions of nurses to quit, American Federation of Teachers’ nurses division launched a drive for state legislation mandating that hospitals install devices to help cut the injury toll — since the institutions won’t install them voluntarily.

AFT Healthcare, the union’s 70,000-nurse division, brought in several of the devices during its legislative conference in Washington to demonstrate how they could help nurses avoid injury.

Back-saving devices

The devices were as simple as an inflatable life raft-like multilayered body cushion. A patient on the floor could have a Velcro-underlined sheet slipped underneath his or her body. With the lining facing down, the nurse slides the patient onto the body cushion. It’s then inflated, raising the patient, sheet and all, to the level of a bed. One nurse, without bending or lifting, could then slide the patient onto the bed.

That’s not what hospitals do now, though, says Health Care Division Director Candace Owley. They force nurses — and often just one nurse — to bend down, lift the patient and transfer him or her to the bed.

The result is injured nurses and techs, a Peter Hart survey for the division shows. And the injured workers are more likely to quit, worsening the nation’s health care worker shortage.

X-ray techs hurt too

The survey of 509 hospital nurses and 404 hospital radiology lab techs, who also must move and shift patients, showed 56 percent of the nurses and 64 percent of the techs had job-related chronic pain or injuries.

X-ray tech Vinnie Fedor of Bayonne, N.J., described the cramped X-ray room where he had to clamber on a table, crouch down to grasp a sheet under a patient on a gurney and lift the patient to the X-ray table. When he climbed down, his foot caught on the sheet “and I flew off, hit my head on a garbage can,” ricocheted back against the X-ray table and wound up with a fractured pelvis and needing knee surgery.

Pain is an issue

Pain has joined understaffing as the biggest on-the-job problem for nurses, with 39 percent listing that as their main issue, compared to 38 percent for understaffing.

On-the-job stress, injuries and pain have led 47 percent of nurses and 30 percent of the techs to consider quitting, the survey adds. More than four-fifths of both groups want state standards to force hospitals to provide patient-moving equipment and training.

AFT is not counting on the federal government to battle the rising injury toll. AFT affiliates will lobby the states, instead. That’s because, Fedor noted, the very first law the GOP-run Congress passed in 2001, at GOP President George W. Bush’s behest, repealed federal ergonomics rules — regulations designed to cut the numbers of the very injuries that hit Fedor.

— Press Associates Inc.