Patient Lifting Injuries Remain a Major Risk for Healthcare Professionals

Here’s How it’s Impacting the Medical Staffing Insurance Market

Despite a growing emphasis on preventative measures, the frequency of workplace injuries in nursing and residential care continues to outpace traditional high-risk jobs such as construction, forestry—even corrections officers—when it comes to nonfatal occupational injuries.

The primary reason?  Repetitive manual lifting, moving and repositioning of patients, which puts nurses and nursing assistants at constant risk from sprains, strains and other injuries.  According to a Health Risk Appraisal survey from the American Nurses Association, 42% of nurses surveyed said their job duties include lifting or repositioning heavy objects (i.e., patients), and this represented a significant work environment safety risk.

Nurses and Nursing Assistants are at Highest Risk

In data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, among all professions, nursing has the highest occurrence rate of nonfatal occupational injuries.  The fact is, in the course of their average workday, manually lifting patients exposes nurses, nursing assistants and other healthcare workers to serious and often career-threatening injuries.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 75 lift-related injuries occur per 10,000 full-time hospital employees, and 107 injuries for every 10,000 employed at nursing homes and residential care facilities (e.g., skilled nursing facilities). Incident rates at hospitals are almost double the U.S. average across all industries—and nursing home rates are over triple the average.

Even with the growing use of automated lifting equipment (such as hydraulic lifts and slings, power stretchers, etc.) and adoption of Safe Patient Handling and Mobility guidelines, the frequency of routine patient movements such as transfer on and off examination tables, chair-to-bed and bed-to-chair transfers will continue to present an exposure to injury.

Findings from an American Nurses Association (ANA) survey of nurses underscored the impact of this persistent issue.  Results included:

  • 62% of nurses surveyed reported a debilitating MSD (musculoskeletal disorder) as a top health and safety concern
  • 56% said that they have experienced pain from MSDs exacerbated by their job
  • 80% of nurses reported pain from MSDs; however they continued to work, despite experiencing persistent discomfort or pain

An Aging Healthcare Workforce Compounds the Problem

It’s no secret that the U.S. workforce is aging, and the healthcare workforce is no exception.  The average age of an RN in the U.S. has climbed steadily from 39 years old in 1990 to 51 years old, according to data from the National Nursing Workforce Study.  This places them at greater risk for injury, and longer recovery times in the event they are injured.

Medical Staffing Insurance

Overall, the medical staffing insurance market is not a robust marketplace.  Many temporary staffing carriers specifically exclude hospital, nursing home, and home health workers from their programs.  This is often directly related to the concern over the lifting exposure.  There are some niche markets that specialize in this exposure, however.

Coverage for Nursing Homes and Home Healthcare Remains a Big Challenge

According to All Risks’ Donna Crudeli, Program Manager of Temporary Staffing, who specializes in medical staffing insurance, “The appetite for any risks that involve patient lifting—nursing home, home healthcare and emergency medical technician/ambulance is very lean.  Most carriers do not want any part of the lifting exposure.”

Hospitals are a Gray Area

While not as high in terms of risk as nursing homes and home healthcare, hospitals do have a significantly higher risk profile when it comes to employee injury.  In 2011, hospitals in the United States documented 253,700 work-related injuries and illnesses, which represents an incidence rate of 6.8 per 100 full-time workers—double the average occurrence rate of private industry overall.

As a result, securing coverage for hospitals can be tough.  Crudeli says, “Some carriers are open to hospital risks, while others remain highly selective.  They are more open to back room and laboratory type exposures rather than standard nursing designations.”  She adds, “Risks such as doctors' offices, dentists, labs and X-ray/MRI technicians are much easier to place.”

The Future

Due to the number of medical staffing accounts in the marketplace, many of which are in state fund/assigned risks due to the exposure, there are a few carriers that are beginning to enter this space.  Medical staffing accounts with clean loss histories now have some options outside of the pool...a good sign for this challenging market!


All Risks, Ltd.  understands the unique staffing agency insurance risks facing the industry.  We are the ideal candidate to underwrite your staffing agency insurance for Workers’ Compensation and Package products.  Contact us today to learn more about our insurance solutions.

Legal Disclaimer: Views expressed here do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is for general guidance of matter only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Discussion of insurance policy language is descriptive only. Every policy has different policy language. Coverage afforded under any insurance policy issued is subject to individual policy terms and conditions. Please refer to your policy for the actual language.