It’s a shocking fact that hospitals rank as one of the most dangerous workplaces in America. A new pamphlet released by OSHA reports that U.S. hospitals recorded 253,700 work-related injuries and illness in 2011. Of those, 58,860 employees (23.2%) missed work due to their injuries.
Such injury and illness rates are “almost twice the rate for the private industry as a whole,” according to OSHA, and the missed-days rates are significantly higher than those in the notoriously hazardous construction and manufacturing industries.
What’s behind the high rate?
Nearly half (48%) of hospital employees who have missed work because of work-related injuries become injured through overexertion and bodily reaction, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Hospital employees are often required to physically handle sick patients, which may involve movement such as lifting, bending, and reaching. These movements often cause painful, debilitating injuries to the musculoskeletal system.
Other common workplace injuries in hospitals arise from:
- Slips, trips and falls (25%)
- Contact with objects (13%)
- Violence by other persons (9%)
- Exposure to harmful substances (4%)
The majority of hospital employee injuries involve sprains, strains, bruises and muscle pain/soreness. Others suffer from fractures, cuts and punctures, multiple trauma and other injuries.
Work-related injuries in hospitals have far-reaching effects
The high rate of work-related injuries in hospitals has a number of important consequences. Citing a report from Aon Risk Solutions, OSHA reports that this high injury rate costs hospitals a total annual expense of $2 billion in workers’ compensation costs. It also can cost hospital a significant amount in having to temporarily restaff positions or pay for overtime to fill the gaps of injured employees.
More frighteningly, OSHA argues that the rate of injured hospital workers is negatively affecting patient care. The physical handling of patients can not only cause injuries in workers, but also cause serious injuries in patients if, for example, they are dropped or otherwise mishandled while being moved by the injured worker. OSHA also notes that overworked, injured and stressed caregivers in hospitals expose patients to a higher risk of medication errors and infections – a terrifying prospect given than medical error is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
OSHA is taking action
Last month, OSHA placed online a collection of resources designed to help hospitals better assess their workplace safety needs, protect the health and safety and improve safe patient handling programs. Hospitals administrators and staff are invited to review this collection to learn best practices for reducing employee injuries in the workplace.
These resources provide comprehensive information on how hospital workers get injured, who is at highest risk, and the effects of these injuries, as well as detailed, practical advice on how to reduce injuries and accidents, particularly with respect to patient handling. Among many other things, OSHA recommends:
- Keeping better records of work-related accidents and injuries in hospitals
- Creating safe patient handling policies
- Developing training programs for caregivers or patient lifting teams
- Directly involving front-line workers in selecting equipment for patient handling
It is encouraging to see OSHA actively promoting an improved culture of safety for hospital employees. As patients, we expect that our health and safety is the first priority of hospitals administrators and staff. Hospital employees should be confident that their health and safety is of equal concern as they care for us.