Nurses report high rates of back pain, physical demands

Canadian nurses report higher rates of back pain and physical demands at work, compared with the general working population. These findings emerged from a landmark survey released in December 2006 by Statistics Canada, the Canadian Institute for Health Information and Health Canada.

Nearly 19,000 Canadian nurses participated in the 2005 National Survey of the Work and Health of Nurses. It was the largest, most comprehensive survey ever conducted on the working conditions of Canadian nurses.

Two scientists from the Institute for Work & Health, Drs. Benjamin C. Amick III and Michael Kerr, served on a national advisory group for the survey. The Institute was also involved in initiating the project in 2000.

An estimated 314,900 Canadians were employed as regulated nurses in 2005, including registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and registered psychiatric nurses. About 95 per cent of Canadian nurses were women.

Some of the findings from the survey:

  • Physical demands: More than 60 percent of female and male nurses said their jobs presented high physical demands, compared with 38 per cent and 46 per cent of all working women and men, respectively.
  • Back problems: A quarter of female nurses (25 per cent) reported back problems, compared with 19 per cent of employed women overall.
  • Pain: In the past 12 months, more than one in three nurses (37 per cent) had experienced pain that prevented them from carrying out normal daily activities. Three-quarters of the nurses who had this level of pain said that it was the result of work-related factors.
  • Injury: Nurses in British Columbia (B.C.) and Saskatchewan were more likely than nurses in other provinces to have been injured on the job. For example, 12 per cent of B.C. nurses and 11 per cent of Saskatchewan nurses reported a work-related injury, compared with 5 per cent of nurses in Prince Edward Island.

Source: At Work, Issue 48, Spring 2007: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto