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Workers' compensation in the world of bariatric care

Obesity is a known health risk to medical patients, but could it also put those who care for these individuals in jeopardy? Many nurses and other caregivers place their well-being on the line when they help lift or maneuver bariatric patients, and the dangers aren't just speculative. In clinical settings, those who attend to the obese and morbidly obese face very real hazards that could permanently change their lives.

What makes bariatric care risky?

According to the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, bariatric patients commonly need help with tasks that demand mobility. The more they rely on nursing staff to help them perform daily activities, the greater the chances are that their nurses might get hurt in the process.

Nurses who provide patient care and help handle overweight individuals commonly lift far more than they should. In the process, they increase their risk factor for musculoskeletal injuries and spinal loading. They also run a heightened danger of spraining or straining their bodies.

However, it's important to note that lifting injuries can involve any size of patient, not just those who are overweight. Simply giving a 110-pound person a boost onto conventional bedding can cause a caregiver to exceed the maximum healthy spinal loading limit. Other everyday activities, such as elevating a person's limb or reaching around a patient, can also increase a nurse's risk of harm.

Reducing these risks

The problem of bariatric care injuries among nursing staff is so well-known that the CDC has issued specific guidelines on the subject. For instance, experts advise that nurses use lifting machinery and approved tools to avoid having to manipulate patients manually. Transport devices, bathing equipment and appropriate mobility aids have also been shown to improve outcomes for patients and their care teams alike.

Even with such workarounds, however, musculoskeletal injuries caused by overexertion occur at twice the national average rate in hospitals. Among at-home nurses, the injury rate is more than three times the national average.

When caregivers become injury victims

Musculoskeletal disorders related to continued overexertion may result in chronic pain, compromised mobility and other career-ending outcomes. Injured nurses who sustain these problems may find it difficult, if not impossible, to continue on their chosen career paths, and their employers may not provide proper safeguards beforehand or compensation after the fact. Those who want to get their jobs and lives back on track often discover that pursuing workers' compensation is their best option.

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