Safety Tips for Nurses

Tips for working safely

  • Needlesticks. Health care workers have long fought for laws that would require hospitals and health care centers to use safe needles — that is, needles with safety caps and other devices that prevent puncture wounds. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires gloves, gowns, masks, eye protection, and now needles to conform to the requirements of the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act. Since 2001, this federal law has required hospitals to use safe needles. If your hospital doesn’t use safe needles, you may want to discuss it with the person responsible for workplace safety issues at your job. Meanwhile, make sure you’re especially careful when drawing blood. Be aware that you are likely to be at your highest risk of injury at the end of a shift or when working a double shift, or at times when staffing is low.
  • Back injury. The majority of injuries reported by nurses are head, neck, or back injuries related to lifting patients. Although federal guidelines suggest workers do not lift anything above 50 pounds, most patients weigh much more than that.

    Whenever you can, push instead of pull. This puts less stress on your back and you have twice as much power. Stay close to the bed or machine you are using and avoid reaching. Use both arms to prevent strain. When you lift from floor level, lift from a squat with your back straight, bend your knees, and let your legs do the lifting. If you have to lift from waist level, try to get help from another nurse or aide on the floor. Make sure you put the bed rails or wheelchair arms down. Explain what you’re doing to your patient and to your co-worker who’s helping you lift.

  • Workplace violence. Nurses are particularly vulnerable to violent attacks when staffing is low and at times of high activity, such as visiting hours and meals, OSHA researchers note. Some nurses also work alone in remote locations and in high-crime areas where they are vulnerable to assault.

    Many nurses can’t avoid working alone or in emergency rooms and mental health centers where the potential for violence exists. Most health care centers have installed security systems that control access and require employees to wear ID badges.

    Familiarize yourself with your patients, especially those with a history of violent behavior, dementia, or drug or alcohol intoxication. You can also make sure you always have an escort or another worker around when you feel you’re in an unsafe situation. Make sure you have a system that protects confidentiality but alerts your co-workers if you know there’s a patient who may become aggressive.

  • Latex allergy. The powder that manufacturers put on latex gloves can cause a rash on your hands, and in some severe cases could send you into anaphylactic shock. Even if you don’t develop an allergy when you first start using them, you could develop them later, and you may be sensitive to them even if they’re on other people’s hands.

    Ask your workplace to use powder-free gloves. But if you do have to work with powdered gloves, wash and dry your hands thoroughly after removing them. While at work, avoid using oil-based lotions that contain mineral, coconut, or palm oil or lanolin. These oils break down the glove barrier. If you can, wear synthetic gloves or cotton liners with latex gloves for work that gets your hands wet. People who develop latex sensitivity may have to go to more trouble to avoid exposure. Consult a doctor and tell your employer if your symptoms get worse.

Further Resources

American Nurses Association (ANA)

Offers general information about the nursing profession and links to state nursing organizations and other sites.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and SEIU Nurse Alliance

This union represents about 110,000 nurses and other hospital workers and lobbies government agencies on safety issues.

United Nurses of America

An affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), UNA represents 45,000 registered and licensed practical nurses. It also offers safety information and fact sheets on safety and health.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA)

It provides information about workplace safety guidelines and regulations.

RN Central

Provides information about nursing and patient care.


Implications of an Aging Registered Nurse Workforce, Peter I. Buerhaus, PhD, RN; Douglas O. Staiger, PhD; David I. Auerbach, MS, Journal of the American Medical Association, June 14, 2000.

“Workplace violence affects one-third of nurses,” by Victoria Carroll, MSN, RN, and Karen H. Morin, DSN, RN, American Nurse.

“Needlestick Injury,” from “Nursing Facts,” American Nurses Association, c. 1999.

Testimony of the American Nurses Association on OSHA’s Proposed Ergonomics Standard, Mary Foley, MS, RN, President.

National Occupational Health &Safety Commission, “Managing Back Pain.”

Nursing World, Workplace Issues: Occupational Safety & Health, “Latex Allergy: Protect Yourself, Protect Your Patients.”

Nursing World, Workplace Issues: Occupational Safety & Health, “Workplace Violence: Can you Close the Door on it?”

Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens; Needlestick and Other Sharp Injuries; Final Rule. January 2001.

American Nurses Association. Needlesticks: A Preventable Epidemic.

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