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Working as an ER nurse can expose you to some of the most challenging and dangerous situations you’ll ever face in your career. However, if you remain vigilant and aware of potential hazards, you can stay safe while continuing to care for and protect your patients.

Here are dangers commonly faced by nurses in the ER and what you can do to reduce your risk and stay safe.

Back, Neck, and Shoulder Injuries

Nurses who transfer patients from gurneys to hospital beds are often at risk for back, neck, and shoulder injuries—especially if they attempt to lift patients by themselves or overestimate their strength.

Always ask for help from one or two other nurses or doctors when moving or lifting patients, even if you feel confident you can do it yourself. Use proper form and body mechanics when lifting to reduce the risk for injury, and use mechanical lifts and devices when necessary.

Bloodborne Diseases

ER nurses are frequently exposed to broken glass, blades, needles, and other sharp objects that can increase their risk for severe and potentially fatal bloodborne diseases. In addition, nurses in the ER also encounter broken skin and bodily fluids that can develop a bloodborne illness.

Follow best practices when handling sharp objects, such as avoiding bending or recapping used needles and safely disposing of sharp objects in appropriate leak- and puncture-proof containers.

Infectious Diseases

Patients in the ER who are extremely ill or have infectious diseases may cough, sneeze, or vomit to put those around them at risk—including nurses.

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Always wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in the ER to avoid contracting infectious diseases, including hepatitis, influenza, and COVID-19. Gloves, goggles, face shields, face masks, and respirators are common forms of PPE that you should wear while working in the ER.

Slips and Falls

Bodily fluids like blood, vomit, and urine can often end up on the floors of ER departments and increase your risk for slips and falls that can easily lead to fractures or exposure to disease. Any standing water or cleaning solutions on the floor can also increase your risk for slips and falls.

Make sure the floors in your ER are always clean and dry, and erect warning signs in instances where the floors are still wet to prevent you and your coworkers from slipping and falling.

Workplace Violence

An estimated 70% of ER nurses report being hit or kicked on the job. Some patients may be aggressive or violent—especially those with unstable psychiatric symptoms or who have used illicit drugs. Patients who have been badly injured may even lash out and unintentionally hurt those trying to care for them.

Invest time into learning effective de-escalation techniques to help you calm patients who may be agitated, aggressive, or prone to attack. Your hospital or healthcare organization may even teach you how to recognize potentially dangerous situations and diffuse them before they become problematic or escalate to violence.

Burnout

ER nurses often suffer from stress, fatigue, and burnout. Burnout can seriously impact your career and livelihood, increasing your risk for anxiety and depression and making you more prone to making mistakes in the ER.

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Put aside time for self-care outside the ER to maintain your health and overall well-being. Get plenty of rest, do fun activities, and spend time with your pets, family, and loved ones.

Also, seek support and resources for nurses when needed, and don’t be afraid to say no to commitments you feel you cannot handle or that may be too overwhelming. You could also connect with other nurses on social media to gain helpful tips and insight into a healthy nursing lifestyle.

Renee Hewitt
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