This National Nurses Week, honor them by creating safe workplaces
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Each year, our nation observes National Nurses Week from May 6 to May 12 — ending on the birthday of Florence Nightingale — to commemorate the brave nurses like Nightingale who devote their careers to caring for others. Our nation first observed this week in October 1954 to honor the 100th anniversary of Nightingale's mission to Crimea.

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To honor nurses this week for their hard work, long hours and dedicated service, we must fight for commonsense reforms to ensure that they do not have to give up their careers due to workplace hazards.

It's no secret that industries like construction are notoriously dangerous for workers. But few people outside the healthcare industry realize that nurses routinely face serious, life-altering injuries. In fact, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that the healthcare industry has one of the highest rates of workplace injuries and illnesses.

What makes nurses' jobs so dangerous? There are several factors at play. By the very nature of their work, they are exposed to a range of infectious diseases. Nurses also are especially vulnerable to violent attacks from patients. A recent Government Accountability Office report found that nurses and other healthcare workers face higher rates of injuries from workplace violence compared to other employees.

But one routine task in particular makes nursing such a dangerous profession: manually lifting patients. By lifting, transferring and moving patients without the assistance of equipment, nurses literally break their backs when caring for our nation's patients.

These overexertion injuries can be devastating for nurses. In 2014 alone, approximately 20,000 nursing assistants and 11,000 registered nurses sustained musculoskeletal injuries serious enough to require days away from work. What's more, these injuries have lasting effects. Nurses often lose their jobs when they can no longer perform manual lifting duties, and they frequently struggle to cope with lasting chronic pain and depression.

Manual lifting isn't just bad for nurses — it's bad for their patients, too. Patients often fall or tear their skin when nurses have to move them manually. This complicates recovery and makes healthcare more expensive for us all.

Hospitals have the solution to this problem at their fingertips. Employers can easily implement safe patient handling programs in their facilities and provide nursing staff with equipment — devices ranging from ceiling lifts to slide boards — to take the strain off their backs.

Employers that have implemented these programs have seen success. In fact, Veterans Affairs hospitals have established programs in their facilities that have already reduced injuries. Not only do these programs reduce worker injuries, but patients report feeling more comfortable when nurses are able use a patient transfer device to move them. They also help the employer's bottom line. In less than five years, the programs pay for themselves by lowering workers' compensation payments and productivity losses for employers.

It's time to make safe patient handling programs the standard for workplaces across the country and enact the Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act (H.R. 4266/S. 2408). The bill directs the U.S. Department of Labor to issue a standard requiring healthcare employers to eliminate manual lifting procedures and implement safe patient handling programs in their facilities. A national standard will prevent tens of thousands of injuries among nurses and guarantee patients will receive safe care.

This National Nurses Week, policymakers should listen closely to the voices of nurses and their advocates. Organizations like the American Nurses Association and the American Federation of Teachers are calling on hospitals across the country to develop safe patient handling programs and are demanding a national standard for safe patient handling.

Nurses deserve safe workplaces. They should not have to sacrifice their health and livelihoods in order to provide quality care for their patients. As a nation, we owe our caregivers more than just our thanks. We owe them action to prevent these career-ending and life-changing injuries.

Conyers represents Michigan's 13th Congressional District, which encompasses the Detroit metropolitan area. Weissman is president of Public Citizen.