Healthcare is America's Most Dangerous Industry

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Healthcare is America's Most Dangerous Industry

Hazard duty

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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In your contact with healthcare workers, you may have gotten the impression that somebody is always injured. If so, you’re not wrong. According to a report recently issued by the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, no other industry in the U.S. has higher worker injury rates than healthcare does.

Becoming Less Safe
In 2010, healthcare employers reported 563,900 workplace injuries, fully 152,000 more than the industry with the second-highest injury rate, manufacturing. For nursing aides, orderlies and attendants, the rate of work-related injuries was seven times the national average for all employees.

Worse, while industries like agriculture and construction are safer now than they were 10 years ago, the number of injuries in the healthcare industry has actually increased 6 percent during the same period.

Those injuries are expensive. According to the report, almost 11,000 nurses miss work each year due to back injuries alone and the costs related to those injuries run to around $7 billion a year. Injuries are also one of the leading reasons people leave healthcare

All in a Day’s Work
Healthcare workers face numerous types of job hazards, which according to OSHA include biological hazards, chemical and drug exposure, respiratory hazards, ergonomic hazards and X-ray and laser hazards.

Despite OSHA guidelines issued more than two decades ago, there are still almost 400,000 percutaneous injuries each year, which also puts workers at risk for HIV and hepatitis B and C infection. Workplace violence is another common hazard. Forty-five
percent of workdays lost due to workplace violence are in the healthcare sector.

Protecting All Workers
An additional problem is that the protection provided for healthcare workers has huge gaps due to inadequate or insufficient inspections and/or standards. Although hospital workers outnumber construction workers by two to one, OSHA conducts only about one-twelfth as many inspections of hospitals as it does of construction sites. 

Public Citizen has called upon OSHA to expand their inspection program and is asking Congress to increase funding to allow the agency to better protect all workers. 

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