Healthcare Surpasses Other Industries in Having Most Hazardous Workplace

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HZD-thumb3We spend a great deal of time discussing patient safety in healthcare, but let’s stop and ponder the issue of staff safety for a second.

According to an article by Fatimah Waseem in USA Today, “Healthcare workers suffer more injuries and illnesses on the job than those in any other industry, thanks in large part to limited federal safety standards and inspections of healthcare facilities.”

This was the conclusion of a report by the national advocacy non-profit group, Public Citizen, after discovering that “healthcare workers had about 654,000 workplace injuries and illnesses in 2010, about 152,000 more than the next most-afflicted industry sector, manufacturing,” Waseem writes, adding, “Even though healthcare workers outnumber construction workers 2-1, the agency responsible for worker safety — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — conducts nearly 20 times more inspections of construction sites than healthcare sites.”

The CDC has said that healthcare workers commonly encounter back injuries, allergies, violence, and needle sticks while on the job. While these dangers may not necessarily involve fatalities, as many manufacturing-related injuries do, healthcare researchers believe that OSHA simply isn’t doing enough to counter these dangers in the healthcare workplace, especially given its budget of $535 million each fiscal year.

Keith Wrightson, worker safety and health advocate for Public Citizen, co-authored the study and is unequivocal in stating “that the government has broken its promise to healthcare workers.” Public Citizen research director Taylor Lincoln says that while manufacturing incurs deadlier job-related injuries, “healthcare is undoubtedly deserving of significantly more inspections than it currently gets.”

Even OSHA agency head, Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels, has admitted as much, saying in the past, “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.”

To be fair, OSHA has issued standards for the healthcare workforce in the past. The problem is, Waseem writes, “the agency lacks a specific standard to measure and reduce physical stress from activities like prolonged exertion of the hands and lifting patients — also known as ergonomic standards.”

Furthermore, the industries that are most dangerous for workers have improved in safety over the last decade, while healthcare has remained stagnant. The Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed, “Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendees who often exert themselves physically by lifting patients out of beds or pushing medical equipment have the highest rate of musculoskeletal injuries than workers in any other field, costing the U.S. about $7 billion annually.”

Many healthcare professionals are worried that workplace injuries will become even more prevalent as patient volumes increase, both from healthcare reform and from aging Baby Boomers.

Suzy Harrington, director of the American Nurses Association, said, “We can’t afford to lose healthcare workers to injury and still meet rising demands for healthcare services.”

How do you as healthcare executives seek to provide a safe work environment for your medical staff? Do you agree that OSHA needs to be just as proactive with healthcare as it is with manufacturing?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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