Health Care Work Injury & Illness Rate Leads U.S. Industries

The health care industry continues to be the fastest growing economic sector in the United States, employing more than 18 million people. Along with this expansion, health care now leads the U.S. workforce in nonfatal injuries and illnesses. In 2010, the industry’s nonfatal injury and illness rate was 5.2, far above the 3.5 U.S. overall rate.*

Included in these statistics are registered nurses, nursing assistants, nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants who work in hospitals, ambulatory health care services, nursing and residential care facilities, and home health care and social service environments. These employees are at risk for a variety of injuries, including back and muscle injuries, trips and slips, and workplace violence—as well as illnesses from needlesticks, stress, bacterial infections, and airborne viruses.

Complications of Work-Related Illnesses

While influenza is often acute and short-lived, many health care facilities have strict absentee rules and minimal paid sick leave. These rules force many professionals to either report to work sick or to take unpaid leave for an illness acquired from their patients. Untreated, influenza can easily progress to pneumonia, resulting in further medical complications and more unpaid sick days.

Tuberculosis is on the rise again—and is a serious threat to hospital and other healthcare workers. Strains of multidrug-resistant TB have been reported in 40 states, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Health Today reports that, in one case, a nurse working at a major medical center contracted multidrug-resistant TB while caring for patients. She was unable to work for two of the three years of her treatment and had to undergo surgery to remove half of an infected lung.

Health care workers and medical center janitorial and housekeeping staff are often the victims of accidental needlesticks. 2008 American Nurses Association survey of 700 nurses revealed that 74% had been stuck by a contaminated needle. Whether from drawing blood, administering an IV, giving a shot, emptying a trash can, or performing other procedures that involve needles or other sharp instruments, a needlestick sets the stage for blood borne virus transmission.

Depending on the medical status of the blood source, a needlestick may result in up to a year of testing and worry before the worker either receives an “all-clear” or the blow of a positive HIV or Hepatitis C diagnosis. Medical care for these potentially deadly viruses involve costly medications, repetitive testing, lost work time, and emotional duress.

All employees, from construction workers to teachers, should understand that needlestick injuries are not limited to the medical community. Any environment where needles or sharp equipment are encountered poses a risk for contracting blood borne viruses.

Whether you are a full-time employee with benefits or a part-time employee lacking paid leave or insurance, any illness that you believe is the result of your workplace may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Testing, antibiotics, hospital stays, doctor appointments, and lost wages quickly add up to large bills–even for people who work in the very place they are treated. Styka & Styka can help you evaluate your situation and understand your workers’ compensation options.

Physical Injuries & Health Care Workers

“The main hazard in hospitals and nursing homes comes from patient handling and the lack of equipment and lack of adequate staffing,” Jim August, director of the occupational safety and health program for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents many workers employed at hospitals, stated in a Health Day article.

While new technology for hospital beds and patient-lifting devices has helped make medical centers safer work environments, injuries from lifting and handling patients continue to lead the industry’s workers’ compensation claims, accounting for more than 25% of injury claims. Over 33% of patient handling claims involve back and shoulder damage from twisting and straining while lifting or moving patients. Many of these injuries occur in nursing and long-term care facilities, which have a 8.3 injury rate, the highest of all health care sectors.**

Following patient handling injuries, repetitive stress injuries are the second leading workers’ comp claims from health care employees, including housekeepers, cafeteria workers, and laundry attendants. People who work with patients every day—including nursing assistants, orderlies, radiology technicians, and physical therapists—are twice as likely as the average U.S. worker to suffer these injuries.

As with employees suffering from work-related illnesses, if you are a full-time or part-time employee who has suffered from a work-related injury, whether an acute injury from a slip and fall or an on-going chronic condition like back or shoulder pain, schedule an appointment with Styka & Styka to learn about your workers’ compensation options.

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
**U.S. Department of Labor

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