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Statistics show 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, which computes to a rate of 6.8 work-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 fulltime employees. Rates of OSHA-recordable injuries and illnesses are broadly decreasing in all industries in the United States, including in hospitals. However, the injury and illness rate in hospitals remains nearly double the rate for private industry as a whole, and it is also higher than the rates in construction and manufacturing—two industries that are traditionally thought to be relatively hazardous. While this was not the case 20 years ago, improvements in workplace safety in both construction and manufacturing have surpassed those in hospitals.

Severe injuries can lead to workers missing work or being assigned to restricted or modified duty. Collectively, the rate of such injuries is referred to as the Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred (DART) rate. Figure 2 shows the subset of these injuries that result in days away from work—that is, days when the employee cannot come to work in any capacity. In the most recent year for which data are available, 2011, private hospitals experienced 58,860 cases of injury or illness resulting in days away from work.1 Thousands more hospital employees continue to work through modified duty assignments while injured or ill. As with total cases, hospitals have a higher rate of “days away” cases than construction, manufacturing, or private industry as a whole. Hospitals experienced injuries at nearly three times the rate of professional and business services, which is a large sector that covers a variety of traditional white-collar jobs.

Workers in hospitals encounter unique risks that are uncommon in other industries. In particular:

  • Hospital workers lift, reposition, and transfer patients who have limited mobility. Larger patients can pose particular challenges for safe handling.
  • Workers may be near potentially contagious patients and sharp devices contaminated with bloodborne pathogens.
  • Hospitals serve patients with physical or mental health challenges, some of which increase the likelihood of violent outbursts.

The unique culture of healthcare contributes to the challenge. Caregivers feel an ethical duty to “do no harm” to patients and often feel compelled to put patient safety above all else. Indeed, some will put their own safety and health at risk to help a patient. Without adequate safeguards for workers, an increased emphasis on patient safety can potentially increase risks for workers—for example, reducing pressure ulcers requires more patient turning, while workers might feel compelled to put their own bodies at risk to prevent a patient from falling.

Work in hospitals is dynamic and unpredictable. A worker must be prepared to respond or react to various situations with split-second decisions.

In addition to the special challenges of healthcare workers, hospitals face the diverse safety challenges associated with food services, materials handling, maintenance, cleaning, office work, and various other functions. Other healthcare fields face some of the same challenges. Nursing and residential care facilities—where a large proportion of patients need assistance with mobility—have even higher “days away” injury rates than hospitals. In contrast, rates in ambulatory care (e.g., doctors’ offices) remain much lower than hospital rates.

The factbook goes on to say that roughly one-third of hospital worker injuries resulting in days away from work (32.7 percent in 2011) occur as a result of interaction with a patient.

This category encompasses patient handling activities (e.g., lifting, repositioning, transfer) as well as violence committed by patients. In 2011, 72 percent of these patient-related injuries resulted in an injury classified as an MSD. Other common sources of injury include contact with surfaces and furniture.

Evolve has your safety training solution

Evolve e-Learning Solutions delivers the online courses Safe Patient Handling , Back Care / Egonomics, Bloodborne Pathogens for Healthcare Workers and Preventing Workplace Violence along with a large library of other OSHA Safety training courses that can give your staff the knowledge and skills to protect themselves from lost work days due to injuries.

You can view the complete OSHA Factbook by going to Facts About Hospital Worker Safety, September 2013

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