Both patient and nursing home employee safety are a key concern during these troubling times.

At the time of writing this article, a New York Times database states that at least 54,000 residents and workers have died from the Coronavirus at nursing homes, assisted living communities, and other long-term care facilities for older adults in the United States. That figure is likely to keep rising.

This article will cover the basic safety measures that every long-term care facility should implement to ensure the safety of their nursing staff.

PPE, Safety Signs, and Remote Meeting

Proper and ongoing use of personal protect equipment (PPE), including goggles, face masks, and gloves are essential, especially during the pandemic. But there’s a lot more that needs to be done.

Highly visible signage should be placed in lobbies, break rooms, dining rooms, and nursing stations to remind employees to take proper pandemic safety precautions.

(Learn about Managing the Coronavirus by Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sterilizing the Workplace.)

However, there are several problems associated with improving employee safety at nursing homes, including staffing challenges. Many of the workers entering this field are new and may just have a high school education. Their comprehension and reading skills may be at that level, too.

Safety education should, therefore, be visual and hands-on rather than relying on manuals and textbooks. This is doable, but it requires some creativity.

Right now, more and more nursing homes and assisted living communities are conducting Zoom training meetings, which are convenient and often necessary to accommodate social distancing, but lack the interaction and learning that takes place when real people get together in one room. On the upside, Zoom safety training can more conveniently fit a nurse’s already busy schedule.

Note that the American Nurses Association recommends that registered nurses should not exceed 40 hours of professional nursing in a seven-day period.

Preventing Ergonomic Injuries

Common injuries reported by nursing home workers include musculoskeletal back injuries caused by improper lifting techniques, repetitive motion injuries, slips and falls (sometimes due to electrical cords connecting medical devices), and fatigue. Nurses can also experience injuries to their hands, wrists, shoulders, ankles, and feet.

(Learn about the Risk Factors for Developing Musculoskeletal Disorders.)

Ceiling lifts, which move residents from beds to wheelchairs or the restroom, put less physical strain on the nursing staff. However, there is a downside to these: the cost. Safety-related tools and technologies can cost administrators several thousand dollars.

Education, training, technology, and communication are far more affordable options to minimize the occurrence of all these types of injuries. Bear in mind that each community is totally unique in terms of size, residential needs, and staffing demands, so it is up to your facility's administrator to determine how they want to approach safety precautions.

Reducing Fatigue and Exhaustion

According to Mark Graban, an expert on lean best practices in the healthcare industry, "Safety should not be simply a matter of convenience. It needs to be a pre-condition for all other work."

That means, in part, setting up the workplace and its procedures to allow for more frequent breaks in order to reduce fatigue. One way to do that is by having two break rooms. One could be designed to offer peace and quiet, while the other one could be set up for those who prefer to chat with each other or use electronics. Hip ad agencies offer creative and flexible spaces - why shouldn’t nursing homes offer similar amenities?

Allowing employees to stack their morning break, lunch time, and afternoon break into one period so they can take an extra long lunch is both dangerous and illegal. Mental fatigue arises from doing one task for too long.

It is also important for employers to use administrative scheduling to rotate people out of tasks. Changing up tasks can be refreshing, alleviates boredom, and spreads expertise throughout the community.

For some RNs, LPNs, and LVNs taking a break can be more stressful than not stopping. There are times when getting to a break when you have to deal with unexpected falls, urgent labs, x-rays, blood sugar checks, and new admits in a timely fashion can be nearly impossible. Because their work is always evolving based on patients' needs, breaks should be taken when time allows.

Exhaustion is another major issue for nursing staff. Here, the solution is a little more personal. “People are learning to self-care and recharge,” said Diana Nicorici, Legacy Nurse Consulting, LLC. “These skills are good for safety and the entire community.”

Adjusting personal pre- and post-work rituals can aid in sleep, relaxation, and fitness. As an employer, you can't enforce what happens outside of work hours. However, you can encourage workers to take up meditation, journaling, stretching, or reading inspirational literature.

It is not uncommon for nurses to fall asleep during their shift when working nights, so maintaining healthy eating, regular exercise, and good sleep habit are important if they are to remain awake and alert.

(Learn more about Sleep Deprivation and Worker Safety.)

Be Proactive

Some nursing home and assisted living administrators are more reactive than pro-active when it comes to safety. However, education and training need to be ongoing, not simply used as a response to an incident.

While mandatory shift change meetings are critical for reporting residential changes, it can be difficult to fit safety into those meetings. It is far better to hold weekly staff safety discussions for all employees - not just department heads.

All staff need to be involved in safety communications, especially during a pandemic like the one we're currently living in. This may continue to affect both residents and employees of long-term care facilities for a very long time. Taking the appropriate steps to ensure that everyone is protected is more crucial than it has ever been.