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California law on nurse-to-patient ratios makes nurses safer, study shows


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Davis, CA – A law intended to minimize nurse-to-patient ratios in California has improved safety among the state’s nurses, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

Researchers examined how injury and illness data for nurses changed before and after the law went into effect in 2004. Data was taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses from 1999 to 2009, as well as hospital employment data from the survey and the California Employment Development Department.

Researchers found that the law was connected to 55.57 fewer workplace injuries and illnesses per 10,000 registered nurses each year – 32 percent lower than what would be expected without the law, according to a May 6 blog post from NIOSH, which funded the study. Injuries and illnesses declined about 38 percent among licensed practical nurses.

Although the data does not explain why injuries and illnesses decreased, researchers provided potential scenarios in which additional staff could be a factor:

  • Preventing needlestick injuries by easing time pressure on nurses
  • Reducing back and shoulder injuries by using more nurses to reposition patients

The study was published in the May issue of the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health.