According to The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), hospitals and healthcare facilities are among the most hazardous places to work in the world, recording a rate of 5.5 work related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full time employees.
Clearly, occupational health and safety remains a big issue within the industry, and considering the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the importance healthcare workers play in every society cannot be understated. In fact, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom, recently expressed his opinion that “no country, hospital or clinic can keep its patients safe unless it keeps its health workers safe”.
This means that reducing occupational injuries and addressing safety concerns is paramount for health services and institutes everywhere and providing healthcare workers with the tools they need to feel safe whilst working in hazardous environments is key to effective risk management in these settings.
But what hazards do healthcare workers deal with in their work and how can safety culture and employee wellbeing be improved? In this article, we will explore these questions and highlight some of the common issues healthcare workers face.
Common Hazards and Risks in Healthcare
Working in any healthcare setting, be it hospitals, nursing homes, clinics orin clients' homes, exposes healthcare workers to numerous hazards. Although we will mostly focus on the physical hazards that employees may face in this article, it is worth noting that healthcare workers are also vulnerable to biological and medicinal hazards, such as exposure to the coronavirus pathogen on daily basis.
These particular issues can be addressed with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as from other organizations such as OSHA. Additionally, medication safety and infection prevention should be an integral part of comprehensive health and safety policies within healthcare organizations.
These factors aside, below we identify the most common physical hazards which healthcare workers face in any healthcare setting and how effective risk assessment and decision making can lead to significant improvements on the job.
Lifting, supporting, and moving patients and equipment
Perhaps the most common injuries amongst healthcare workers come as a result of lifting, supporting, and moving patients. Handling patients often requires a lot of bending, twisting, and reaching which can lead to musculoskeletal disorders such as sprains and strains in backs and shoulders; general back injuries; slipped discs; soft tissue injuries to wrists, arms, shoulders, necks, and legs; chronic pain, and even hernias.
The risk of injury is greatly increased if the patient is too heavy or too large for the healthcare worker to handle. Despite the safety risks involved, many healthcare workers and caregivers attempt the act even if they are physically unsuitable for the job, resulting in more risk of injury for both the worker and the patient.
Similar to the risks posed by patients, the moving and handling of equipment also presents significant safety risks to healthcare professional, often resulting in the same injuries one would acquire from handling patients.
Lifting, lowering, pulling, pushing, carrying, or moving something or someone are tasks that healthcare workers perform almost every working day. This manual handling becomes hazardous when it is high force, involves repetitive movements and/or sustained awkward posture. Unfortunately, the regular handling of people and heavy objects involves all of the above, meaning healthcare workers suffer greatly from these everyday tasks.
Implementing comprehensive training for patient handling can significantly improve care delivery and simultaneously reduce injuries at work. Better inventory management from healthcare organizations can ensure that equipment can be moved with less manual effort from employees. Additionally, medical staff at high risk should be provided with the correct equipment, such as lumbar supports, to allow them to lift safely.
As well as the physical risk factors involved in the daily routine of healthcare workers, many also suffer from occupational stress which can lead to distress, a decrease in quality of life, burnout and psychosomatic problems.
This occupational stress then creates a ripple effect and begins to affect other areas of the healthcare system. Patient care suffers and there is an overall increase of risk factors across the entire healthcare system.
Reducing incidences relating to workplace stress requires careful monitoring of employee wellbeing, as well as ensuring healthcare organizations are properly staffed and not overly reliant on a core group of employees.
Slips, trips, and falls
Work related slips, trips and falls can result in serious disabling injuries for healthcare workers that greatly impact their ability to do their job. After overexertion, slips, trips, and falls are the second most common cause of injury in healthcare settings. Although most slips, trips and falls are preventable with the right training and awareness, unavoidable situations can always occur. In extreme cases, healthcare workers can seriously injure themselves and become immobilized due to injury. It is possible to reduce response times to, and hence severity of injuries resulting from slips, trips and falls by having staff use wearable panic buttons that can send alerts calling for help.
Workplace violence in healthcare settings is a growing concern and an important public health issue. Occupational violence, be it physical or psychological, also has serious implications on the health of healthcare workers, as well as a negative effect on their productivity and the quality of care they can administer to patients.
Healthcare workers in emergency departments and psychiatric units face higher risks of assault than those in other healthcare settings, however, all healthcare workers are at risk of occupational violence in their work. A recent study, involving over 331,544 healthcare workers, revealed that a staggering 61.9% of the participants reported exposure to some form of workplace violence.
These issues can be mitigated or deescalated with the use of wearable panic buttons. This kind of technology allows healthcare workers to call for help whenever necessary and provide the security department with their exact locations in real-time.
The ability to immediately call for help provides healthcare workers with an increased sense of security, and ultimately, a decrease in workplace violence and adverse events. Wearable panic buttons are already transforming the hospitality industry and providing workers with a sense of protection, safety and improved job satisfaction knowing their employers care for their well-being.
Bullying and harassment
Unfortunately, bullying and harassment are as common in healthcare settings as they are in other industries. This includes any intentional act that causes physical or emotional harm to another human being.
It is a worldwide phenomenon and has been described by the World Health Organization as ‘a major public health problem that demands the concerted and coordinated time and attention of healthcare providers, policy-makers and families’. Today, many organizations are working to stamp out this type of behavior, with The Joint Commission and the AHRQ among the highest profile outlets offering guidance.
Wearable panic buttons for healthcare workers
Learn more about the benefits of panic buttons within the healthcare industry and how ROAR for Good’s AlwaysOn technology is redefining the industry standard. Get in touch with a member of the team to discuss your requirements today.