With over 18 million workers healthcare is among the U.S.’ largest industries. Due largely to the rapid growth in our elderly and increasingly unhealthy populations it is also one of the most rapidly growing sectors for employment. Unfortunately, though it is experiencing a high rate of job growth, it also experiences one of the highest injury rates as well. While the injury risks for this industry are vast and complex there are things that can be done to help protect our healthcare workers.
It’s perhaps easy to assume that workers in this industry are less prone to injury since they are after all healthcare professionals. However, this is not the case. The fact is the number of cases of non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses among healthcare workers is among the highest in any sector.
Risks for healthcare workers include needle-stick injuries, exposure to chemicals and radiation, violence and assault, stress, and musculo-skeletal injuries including sprains, strains and overuse injuries. With so many risks and with increasing numbers of workers, injury rates are increasing in this sector. The U.S. Department of Labor’s statistics show that injuries in this sector increased by 6% in 2010, while other industries saw an average decrease of 6.5%.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has responded by launching a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Nursing Home and Residential Care Facilities. With this program they promise more inspections with a focus on musculo-skeletal issues, blood borne pathogen exposure, workplace violence, slips, trips and falls. Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary for OSHA, stated, “It is unacceptable that the workers who have dedicated their lives to caring for our loved ones when they are sick are the very same workers who face the highest risk of work-related injury and illness. These injuries can end up destroying a family’s emotional and financial security. While workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities take an enormous toll on this nation’s economy – the toll on injured workers and their families is intolerable.”
OSHA has released a tip and fact sheet for avoiding musculo-skeletal disorders (MSDs) in healthcare workers. Click here to download.
Further statistics show us that work-related MDSs account for the largest proportion of workers compensation costs in hospitals and long-term nursing home facilities nationwide. Hilda Solis, Labor secretry states “We remain concerned that more workers are injured in the health care and social assistance industry sector than in any other, including construction and manufacturing, and this group of workers had one of the highest rates of injuries and illness at 5.2 cases for every 100 workers,”.
What can be done?
Though it’s no easy task, the injuries healthcare workers are experiencing can be prevented. Healthcare workers are often put into risky situations by the urgency of patient issues and unpredictability of patients at times. For example, performing patient transfers, the act of assisting a patient in moving from bed to wheelchair or wheelchair to bed for instance, is typically a routine task for trained healthcare staff. However, when working with physically or mentally impaired patients, their often unexpected movements cause injury to the healthcare staff assisting them. There are many other high-risk situations to which healthcare workers are exposed but there are numerous standards that can be put in place to protect them.
- Ensure workers are physically able to perform their job tasks
- Provide fitness equipment for maintaining and increasing physical ability
- Equip workers with tools and equipment to enhance the ergonomic efficiency of their jobs
- Train and educate staff in ergonomics and body mechanics given that “ergo injuries” are twice as high in healthcare than in the general population
- Make safe lifting practices mandatory and enforce consequences when protocols are not followed
- Encourage early symptom notification to address pain before it becomes a work injury claim
- Perform observation assessments periodically to ensure workers are performing their jobs safely
InjuryFree is here to help! If you have questions or would like more information on strategies to increase the health and safety of your workers, in any industry, please contact us today!