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The dangers faced by America's nurses

New York residents may be shocked to learn that more than 12 percent of U.S. emergency room nurses are threatened with physical violence during an average work week, and medical professionals who work in mental health facilities encounter such threats far too frequently as well. While most of the injuries that occur in hospitals and clinics are caused by falls, mishaps or overexertion rather than acts of physical violence, the threats faced by nurses serve as a reminder that health care remains one of America's most hazardous occupations.

Safety advocates are taking the problem seriously because health care is the country's fastest growing industry and employs more than 18 million people around the country. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration put the number of work-related hospital accidents and injuries in 2011 at 253,000, and nurses are injured in workplace accidents at a higher rate than even construction workers.

Nurses who wish to avoid hospital injuries can take proactive steps to lower their risks. In addition to learning and following proper lifting techniques, nurses should pay particular attention to sharp objects, such as hypodermic needles, and wash their hands regularly to prevent illness and infection. They should also have a zero tolerance attitude toward violence and report any threats to a supervisor immediately.

Back injuries are particularly common among nurses, and their frequency looks likely to increase in the coming years as obesity rates continue to rise. Not only are these injuries often painful and slow to heal, but they may also flare up again without warning when their sufferers have physically challenging occupations. Experienced workers' compensation attorneys could help injured or sick nurses in New York to claim the financial benefits that they may be entitled to under state law. Attorneys could also assist injured medical professionals to complete and submit their workers' compensation paperwork and explain how their claims will be evaluated.

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