California’s nurse-to-patient ratio law and occupational injury

An Erratum to this article was published on 14 January 2015

Abstract

Objective

To determine whether state-mandated minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in California hospitals had an effect on reported occupational injury and illness rates.

Methods

The difference-in-differences method was applied: The change in injury rates among hospital nurses after implementation of the law in California was compared to the change in 49 other states and the District of Columbia combined. Data were drawn from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the California Employment Development Department, including numerator estimates of injury and illness cases and denominator estimates of the number of registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) employed in hospitals. Confidence intervals (CIs) for rates were constructed based on assumptions that favored the null hypothesis.

Results

The most probable difference-in-differences estimate indicated that the California law was associated with 55.57 fewer occupational injuries and illnesses per 10,000 RNs per year, a value 31.6 % lower than the expected rate without the law. The most probable reduction for LPNs was 33.6 %. Analyses of CIs suggested that these reductions were unlikely to be due to chance.

Conclusions

Despite significant data restrictions and corresponding methodological limitations, the evidence suggests that the law was effective in reducing occupational injury and illness rates for both RNs and LPNs. Whether these 31.6 and 33.6 % reductions are maintained over time remains to be seen.

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Acknowledgments

This study was funded in part by Grants from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (U54OH007550-11, Dr. Leigh) and the California Department of Public Health (Agreement 09-11543, Drs. Romano and Leigh).

Conflict of interest

None.

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Correspondence to J. Paul Leigh.

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Leigh, J.P., Markis, C.A., Iosif, AM. et al. California’s nurse-to-patient ratio law and occupational injury. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 88, 477–484 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00420-014-0977-y

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Keywords

  • Legislation
  • Job-related injury
  • Illness
  • Ratios