Healthcare Worker Injury Rates Among the Highest of Any Profession

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Workers in the healthcare industry suffer higher on the job injuries than most other professions, with more than 2 million reported lost work days in 2011. Despite this, the focus of safety in healthcare facilities has been primarily on patient safety, according to "Safety Culture in Healthcare, The $13 Billion Case," a peer-reviewed feature in the October issue of Professional Safety, the journal of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

“Pick any other industry, and the injury rate is less,” explains the article’s author, Scott Harris, PhD, MSPH, who adds that healthcare worker injury rates are only less than outdoor wilderness professions such as commercial loggers and fishermen. “The injury rates are sky high.”

Since there is only one Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspector for every 59,000 covered employees across more than 8 million worksites, few inspections have occurred in healthcare facilities. With nursing homes recording the highest injury rates among all healthcare facilities, the most frequent injury is sprains, strains, and tears to the back, primarily due to overexertion from patient handling. Slips, trips and falls, violence and chemical exposure cause other injuries, with nurses being the workers who experience the highest rate of injury.

The costs associated with healthcare worker safety, also eventually trickle down to patient medical bills. For example, the cost of injuries in hospitals in 2011 exceeded $6.1 million, which required additional patient billing to offset the expense. Similar scenarios are true in nursing and residential care facilities and ambulatory health.

“The injury side of healthcare costs has to be in there somewhere,” says Harris.

However, the weak occupational safety culture in healthcare facilities has not been ignored by OSHA, which in 2012, began targeted inspections and regional and national emphasis programs, with additional inspections at nursing, residential and ambulatory care facilities scheduled in the near future.

Source: American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE)

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