Healthcare Workers Continue to Struggle with On-The-Job Health Risks

According to OSHA, American healthcare workers have one of the highest rates of job-related injuries and illnesses. This includes workers in settings like hospitals, clinics, dental offices, surgery centers, birthing centers, home healthcare settings, and nursing homes.

The recent Ebola outbreak has refocused attention on physicians and nurses who may contract communicable diseases from patients. However, other healthcare workers also struggle with high injury and illness rates stemming from their work environments. For example, in 2010, orderlies, nursing aides, and attendants had the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorders of all occupations (249 per 10,000 workers), well above the national average (of just 34 per 10,000).

While many other occupations have seen safety improvements in recent years, healthcare work has remained stubbornly dangerous. Between 1989 and 2011, the rate of American workers in all occupations suffering on-the-job injuries or illnesses fell from 8 per 100 employees to 3.75 per 100 employees. However, over this same time period, the rate for healthcare workers only saw a modest decrease (falling from 8.5 to 7.5 per 100 employees).

There are a number of reasons why safety progress in healthcare has been such a challenge, but one is that the safety hazards come in such a wide variety of forms. We tend to think about healthcare professionals facing lab-based safety hazards, such as chemical and drug exposures, respiratory pathogens, and exposure to bloodborne hazards. However, they also face things like laser hazards, radiation and x-ray hazards, and injuries resulting from heavy lifting and repetitive tasks. OSHA even points out that healthcare workers can be physically attacked by patients.

This high rate of workplace danger has powerful financial consequences, too. In 2011, U.S. hospitals recorded a staggering 58,860 work-related injuries and illnesses that were serious enough for an employee to miss work. And the total amount nationally for workers compensation losses in the healthcare field is close to $2 billion!

So, what can healthcare providers and employees do to minimize health hazards to employees?  OSHA recommends four specific actions:

  • Assessing your injury and safety programs
  • Exploring how a safety and health management system can make all of your safety programs more effective
  • Exploring the benefits of a comprehensive safe patient handling program
  • Learning from strategies that other hospitals have used successfully

An excellent way to enhance employee safety programs is with online safety training. MSDSonline’s comprehensive suite of on-demand training solutions includes many courses that directly address the hazards faced by healthcare workers. For example, our Lab Safety modules cover everything from proper chemical hygiene to radiation safety to spill control. With an eye to the musculoskeletal injuries sustained by those assisting nurses and physicians, our Personal Protection trainings contain modules such as “Back Safety,” “Ergonomics General,” “Hand and Finger Safety,” and “Preventing Strains and Sprains.”

For more information about OSHA’s safety recommendations for healthcare workplaces, you can visit their Worker Safety in Hospitals page.

To learn more about MSDSonline’s suite of on-demand workplace trainings, visit our online course library.