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The hazards faced by health care workers

Many Texas residents would be surprised to learn that nurses incur a higher rate of on-the-job injuries each year than law enforcement officers, miners or construction workers. While the injuries suffered by nurses are rarely life-threatening, they can be painful and slow to heal. The American health care industry employs over 18 million people and is the nation's fastest growing sector, and many of its workers must cope daily with emotional stress, the cumulative toll of physically demanding tasks and even threats of physical violence.

According to figures from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more than 250,000 hospital workers suffered some sort of workplace injury in 2011. A study of emergency room staff revealed that more than 12 percent of ER nurses deal with threats of physical violence on a weekly basis, and the data suggests that mental health facilities may be an even more dangerous environment. Researchers have found that the vast majority of the physical threats directed at nurses are made by patients.

Health care professionals who have direct contact with patients suffer on-the-job injuries at almost twice the rate of private industry workers. The most common types of injuries suffered by nurses are related to overexertion, falls and striking an object or wall while running. Nurses may also develop illnesses after coming into contact with toxic substances or used hypodermic needles.

The growing obesity epidemic has made the job of health care workers even more physically challenging in recent years, and the back injuries that nurses often suffer while moving overweight patients can be excruciatingly painful and may prevent them from working for weeks or months. Workers' compensation attorneys may assist injured nurses to file a claim for benefits that can include medical care and partial wage replacement, and they may also advocate on their behalf if their claims are contested by their employers or insurance providers.

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