Number of nurses injured on the job is ‘staggering,’ says union president

Every day of the year, on average, a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse is injured on the job in Newfoundland and Labrador.

According to data from WorkplaceNL, this has been happening for at least the last seven years. 

“These numbers are staggering,” said Registered Nurses’ Union Newfoundland and Labrador President Yvette Coffey.

CBC News asked WorkplaceNL for how many times nurses have filed reports about being injured at work, since 2016.

The annual totals of injury reports filed by both registered and licensed practical nurses have hovered around 400 every year since 2016.

The worst year, when 450 nurses filed injury reports, was 2018. The numbers for 2023 are not yet final, according to WorkplaceNL, which also administers the workers’ compensation system in the province. 

Coffey says even so, injuries are under-reported.

“Any injury at all requires you to be off work with half your pay essentially,” she said. 

“We don’t even have accurate statistics here because a lot of nurses, and I’m saying registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, they don’t even claim workers compensation because of the money, the decreased compensation. They actually use up their sick leave.” 

Coffee said the “high rate of sick leave” among health-care workers, especially nurses, needs to be addressed. 

Workplace NL says 408 nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador filed injury reports in 2022. (Shutterstock)

Coffey said the injuries that are reported are often very severe injuries that change lives.

Some of the reported injuries are caused by violence that nurses endure at work, she said. 

 “We’ve had registered nurses with broken noses, people pulling on them and causing soft tissue or muscle injuries,” said Coffey.

WATCH | Yvette Coffey explains why some nurses don’t file a injury report when they’ve been hurt:

‘Staggering’ numbers show more than 1 nurse is injured every day on the job in N.L.

More than 400 nurses filed injury reports to WorkplaceNL in 2022. Yvette Coffey, who represents the province’s registered nurses, is demanding the creation of an independent health sector safety council made up of employees and representatives from the provincial health authority.

“Overall, the whole health sector including family services, home care, and personal care homes, has the highest incidence of injuries in this province,” said Coffey, adding the incidence of violence is 3.9 per cent higher in health care than any other sector. 

Coffey says the union has been calling for measures to reduce injuries for many years but the numbers from WorkplaceNL show the annual rate of injuries hasn’t changed significantly since 2016.

“The biggest concern here is that we keep asking for an independent health sector safety council to address these injuries to address the violence because since 2019 when we had the violence health form, there has been no strategic plan to address violence in healthcare,” she said.

‘We need to address the violence’

Coffey said an independent health sector safety council would be funded by the employers and include both union members and employers.

“We need to address the injuries, we need to address the violence. It would be like the Fish Harvesters Sector Safety Council, the Forestry Sector Safety Council,” she said. 

“It’s a win-win for employers. They might say that it costs them, but in the end, their injury rates go down,” she said.

An independent health sector safety council would have to be created by WorkplaceNL, the health authority, and the unions. Coffey said councils work because they put safety protocols, policies and regulations that prevent injuries.

“We already have the union buy-in, we have employer buy-in, and WorkplaceNL buy-in but after three years of talking about this we still do not have it,” said Coffey.

Health Minister Tom Osborne says his department wants to help reduce the number of injuries throughout the health-care sector.

“We do need to ensure that they have a safe workplace that’s free of violence, where they can provide the best health-care services to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. So,we share the concern of the registered nurses’ union. We support the notion of looking for solutions.”

A man wearing a suit stands in a lobby in front of two microphones.
Health Minister Tom Osborne supports the idea of a Health Sector Safety Council. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Coffey said the obstacle is likely money and ultimately N.L. Health Services’ money comes from the provincial government.

Osborne addressed that.

“We will certainly work with the unions and work with the health authority to ensure that what resources are needed to address this issue are there,” he said.

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