Hospital workers face serious hazards, including: lifting and moving patients, workplace violence, slips and falls, exposure to chemicals and hazardous drugs, exposures to infectious diseases and needlesticks. In 2012, U.S. hospitals recorded 250,000 work-related injuries and illnesses, almost 60,000 of which caused employees to miss work. Nationwide, workers' compensation losses result in a total annual expense of $2 billion for hospitals.
OSHA has launched a Web resource to help hospitals prevent worker injuries, assess workplace safety needs, enhance safe patient handling programs and implement safety and health management systems. The materials include fact books, self-assessments and best practice guides.
"These new materials can help prevent hospital worker injuries and improve patient safety, while reducing costs,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "At the heart of these materials are the lessons from high-performing hospitals that have implemented best practices to reduce workplace injuries while also improving patient safety.”
The web site's materials on safe patient handling are designed to address the most-common type of injuries hospital workers face, and hospitals can use these resources to protect their workers, improve patient safety and reduce costs.
“By fostering research to identify injury risk factors and safety interventions, steps can be taken to save costs and enhance service to the patients,” said Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Support for a Standard
Public Citizen would like the agency to go a step further, saying OSHA should require safety and health management programs in a rule and set a safe patient handling standard to address ergonomic stressors and musculoskeletal disorders.
“The record is clear that injury and illness prevention programs have delivered a reduction in workplace injuries and illnesses,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “We urge the agency to take the next step and make programs like this required in a rule, as well as setting a safe patient handling standard.”
In July 2013, Public Citizen issued a report indicating health care workers suffer more injuries and illnesses on the job each year than those in any other industry. In 2010, health care employers reported 653,900 workplace injuries and illnesses, about 152,000 more than the next most afflicted industry sector, manufacturing.
“OSHA’s program is an important first step because it gives employers and employees the tools needed to foster open discussions on how to lift patients safely in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities,” said Keith Wrightson, worker safety and health advocate for Public Citizen. “We look forward to the agency taking further measures to improve safety for the health care workers who are so frequently injured.”
Nurses, nursing aides, orderlies and attendants suffer more musculoskeletal injuries than workers in any other field. Costs associated with back injuries in the health care industry are estimated by Public Citizen to be more than $7 billion annually.
One initiative cited by OSHA is a dedicated employee injury prevention program initiated at Florida’s Tampa General Hospital. Since developing a dedicated employee injury prevention program, the hospital has seen a 65 percent decrease in patient-handling injuries, a 90 percent decrease in lost work days and a 92 percent reduction in worker compensation cost per dollar of payroll.
If employers follow OSHA’s program, they could see a significant reduction in the annual cost associated with workplace injuries. But the agency needs to take further steps, including requiring such programs in a rule and initiating a rulemaking to set a safe patient handling standard.
The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) weighed in, with President Barbara J. Dawson, CIH, CSP, noting, “AIHA has long been a supporter of the effort to reduce risk factors associated with work-related musculoskeletal disorders, including those arising from the manual handling of patients.”
In September 2013, AIHA issued a letter to U.S. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D., Mich.) supporting a bill that would protect both health care workers and patients from injuries. The legislation, titled the “Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2013,” would direct the U.S. Secretary of Labor to reduce injuries to patients, nurses and other healthcare workers by establishing a safe patient handling, mobility and injury prevention standard. AIHA assumed a leadership role on the issue of safe patient handling by adopting a position statement, “Safe Handling of Patients and Residents,” in 2009.