Smart Habits of Injury-Free Nurses!

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


Health injuries are very common in the nursing profession. If you’ve been on the job for even a short time, you’ve probably gotten sick or hurt at work. Most of these health injuries are minor, but some can balloon into acute or chronic problems.

Daily safety habits can make a big difference in your risk over the long term. Here are several common injuries and health problems that nurses can experience at work—along with tips for staying safer.

Broken Skin.

Wound infection is a constant concern in germ-laden healthcare settings. Needle sticks are just the most obvious risk category. Anything from a burn to a paper cut could put you at risk for infection. Even the bad habit of peeling at a ragged cuticle or touching open acne sores on your face is something to watch out for.


The best way to avoid cuts and burns is simply by being mindful of the tools you work with—from needles and scalpels to the hospital’s autoclave. Always assume an object that might be sharp or hot actually is and handle it with care. Keep even small cuts or sores disinfected and covered up at work.

Varicose Veins .

This is a sneaky occupational injury because it takes a long time to develop. Plus, there can be lifestyle habits outside of work that contribute to the condition. If you spend most of the day at work standing and walking, that’s a potential cause. If you spend most of your time at home sitting, guess what? That’s another contributing factor. You just can’t seem to win with varicose veins.


Many nurses swear by compression hose for helping prevent leg vein problems. Wear it under your scrubs and no one has to know (it can also help hold in your tummy and hip fat, making you look slimmer). You can also do stretches and squats during your shift to help keep blood from pooling in your legs.

Chemical Exposure .

Nurses work in a setting where a war is constantly being waged against pathogens. This means you live around a lot of chemicals that are ostensibly used to fight disease and create a safer environment for everyone. Unfortunately, many of these substances can actually cause long-lasting harm to your health. These include cleaning and sterilizing agents, chemotherapy and antiretroviral drugs, gases used for anesthesia, latex and even commonly used hand disinfectants. Regular exposure to the various chemicals used in an average hospital has been linked to health injuries such as asthma, cancer, miscarriage and birth defects.


Ask to see the MSDS (material safety data sheet) for the chemicals you use or are exposed to on a daily basis. Your employer is required by law under OSHA regulations to provide you with this information promptly upon request. Then, evaluate how you handle these chemicals compared to the recommendations on the MSDS. Don’t hesitate to ask for additional PPE (personal protective equipment) if necessary to cut down on your exposure.

Sprains, Strains and Tears .

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sprains, strains and tears are by far the most common nursing-related injuries. They fall into two main categories: overexertion and falls. Overexertion caused by lifting, turning or transferring bedridden patients often results in lower back injuries.


There are several ways to limit back strain from overexertion. If you have access to a lifting device and enough room to use it, that’s your best bet. Making lifting a two-person job is also a good idea. If you must do heavy lifting alone:

  • Remember to keep your back straight
  • Get as close to the patient as possible
  • Avoid simultaneous twisting and bending
  • Engage your abs
  • Carry the weight with your thigh and calf muscles

For a very detailed and helpful analysis of strategies to help nurses reduce back injuries, check out this educational brochure from DIOSH (Cal/OSHA).

Slips and Falls .

The second leading cause of nurse workplace injuries is slip-and-fall accidents. Most of these are same-level falls. In other words, nurses aren’t falling off platforms or down flights of stairs—they’re slipping or tripping on uneven or wet floors or falling into objects or equipment on a level surface.


Be sure to pick out a pair of nursing shoes with good traction to help you avoid slipping at work.

What safety tips help keep you safe on the job? Let us know in the comments section.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. I am disappointed to read advice that perpetuates body mechanics as our best defense rather than insisting that employers install lifting equipment properly taught for even turning and moving patients up in bed. There are still OR teams getting inured moving patients from table to stretcher using dark ages technology roller boards instead of air-assisted hover technology–our OR nurses would never go back. I would ask that Colleges of Nursing and all healthcare organizations adopt a true culture of zero lifting instead of body mechanics. Protect the generation of nurses that will be taking care of me and others as we approach retirement.

  2. For plantar fasciitis; Write the alphabet with your toes before you get out of bed. Change shoes/heel heights several times a day. Have good arch supports in your shoes. Roll your foot over a frozen bottle of water. Don’t expect overnight success. It’s a long haul but worth it.

  3. What is your advice for Nurses with regards to plantar fasciitis? I have been hunting for shoes that can help with the pain that I began to experience since late last year after close to three decades of bedsides nursing.

    • I had trouble with heel spur pain years ago. I switched out shoes during the shift sometimes and that helped. Stopped using the Reebok walking shoes that had the air channel on the bottom. (Yes, this was YEARS ago.) Try MBT shoes. They are not the best looking shoes, but have really helped me with foot pain. Some of the running shoes out there look to be promising for support.
      Some people suggest surgery. I believe that surgery is the last option if something else could work. Good luck to you, and hang in there!

    • I have had actual plantar fasciitis twice before. My recommendation is change up your shoes every day. If you only have two pair, then wear them every other day. Each shoe supports your foot differently and I believe this variation keeps my feet healthier. Nursing 19 years greater than full time and haven’t had it again since becoming a nurse!

  4. If you work in an area that might have wet floors (endo, OR, etc) restaurant shoes are wonderful for preventing falls. They’re designed for safety on wet or slick floors.

  5. Be very careful if wear Dansko. Wonderful shoes! But do not try pulling a stretcher backwards. Steped right out of mine and broke my leg! Make sure have a nursing shoe with anterior foot strap…Seriously! My orthopedics doc told me see this often in nurses…


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