Friday, February 21, 2014

Worker Safety in Hospitals: Understanding the Problem

Did you know that a hospital is one of the most hazardous places to work? In 2011, U.S. hospitals recorded 253,700 work-related injuries and illnesses, a rate of 6.8 work-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time employees. This is almost twice the rate for private industry as a whole.

OSHA created a suite of resources to help hospitals assess workplace safety needs, implement safety and health management systems, and enhance their safe patient handling programs. Preventing worker injuries not only helps workers—it also helps patients and will save resources for hospitals. We will take a few weeks to go over these various resources that OSHA has provided to improve worker safety in hospitals.

Understanding the Problem

Hospitals have serious hazards—lifting and moving patients, needlesticks, slips, trips, and falls, and the potential for agitated or combative patients or visitors—along with a dynamic, unpredictable environment and a unique culture. Caregivers feel an ethical duty to "do no harm" to patients, and some will even put their own safety and health at risk to help a patient.

Hospital work can be surprisingly dangerous. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the likelihood of injury or illness resulting in days away from work is higher in hospitals than in construction and manufacturing—two industries that are traditionally thought to be relatively hazardous.

Injuries and illnesses come at a high cost. When an employee gets hurt on the job, hospitals pay the price in many ways, including: Workers' compensation for lost wages and medical costs; temporary staffing, backfilling, and overtime when injured employees miss work; turnover costs when an injured employee quits; and decreased productivity and morale as employees become physically and emotionally fatigued.

Workplace safety also affects patient care. Manual lifting can injure caregivers and also put patients at risk of falls, fractures, bruises, and skin tears. Caregiver fatigue, injury, and stress are tied to a higher risk of medication errors and patient infections.

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