Special Topics in Safety Management

Healthcare Workers: What’s Being Done to Protect Their Health?

The nation’s 13.5 million healthcare workers look out for us, but what’s being done to protect them? Here are some ideas and strategies.

In this election year, we’re hearing about “health care” almost as much as about ”change.” But while the candidates are pushing plans to improve things for patients, perhaps they should spend some time on the needs of healthcare workers, too.

Health care employs a huge workforce … more than 13.5 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They do their often-lifesaving work in nearly 550,000 workplaces, about 70 percent of which are the offices of doctors, dentists, and other individual providers. Only 2 percent of healthcare locations are hospitals, but they employ the lion’s share of workers—40 percent of the total. The rest are in nursing and residential care facilities, outpatient centers, and medical labs.

Employees teach themselves about bloodborne pathogenns, as demanded by OSHA’s standard, with BLR’s Interactive CD Course: Bloodborne Pathogens. Try it at no cost or risk. Click for details.

Recently, BLR’s twice-a-month print newsletter, OSHA Compliance Advisor, compiled a report of what healthcare employers, big and small, are doing to protect those workers. Here are some of the strategies being employed.

Back to Safety. You’d think that illness would be the greatest risk in a germ-filled environment, but at the more than 1,000 facilities of healthcare giant HealthSouth, there’s another culprit. It’s back injuries, often caused by moving patients in and out of bed or around the facility. HealthSouth addresses this by requiring every part of its organization to have a back safety program. The program teaches how to lift and carry, both on and off the job. “Our injury-prevention program is about the whole body and the whole individual, at work and at home, says Randy Mink, HealthSouth’s senior vice president in charge of risk management. The back safety program is supplemented with additional training in ergonomic management. Workers are even taught how to brush their teeth in ways that put minimal wear and tear on their musculoskeletal system.

Track for Safety. HealthSouth employs a special program called ECOSystem, which stands for Enhancing a Culture of Safety, The program teaches managers and supervisors how to track indicators of facility safety. These include identifying incident rates by cause, computing workers’ comp costs as a percentage of payroll costs, and looking at data from individual facilities, compared to the company as a whole. The company also appoints a “health and safety champion” for each site, to raise awareness and “serve as a walking reminder of the risk reduction program.”

Engage Employees. The 320-bed Lima Memorial Hospital in Ohio has earned a place in OSHA’s vaunted Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) by relying heavily on workers themselves. Lima has formed a safety committee of both associates and volunteers to team with management in identifying and rectifying safety hazards. The hospital also runs two health fairs a year and sends a monthly safety quiz to all workers. Those who return correct answers can win a free dinner or other prizes.

Try BLR’s unique, self-directed, self-testing bloodborne pathogens training program at no cost or risk. Click for info.

Beware of Bloodborne Pathogens. Patients often fear being stuck with a needle, but healthcare workers are at far greater risk. Their jobs revolve around the use of what the industry calls “sharps,” and it’s not uncommon to handle many in a day. The problem: Any needle or scalpel-type device that touches a sick person’s body fluids may become contaminated. If the worker then suffers a puncture wound from those items, the germs may be injected into the worker’s body. The problem is so serious that OSHA has a bloodborne pathogens standard and requires training, while the Health Care Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine devotes much of its effort to finding solutions. We’ll get into more detail on bloodborne pathogens in tomorrow’s Safety Daily Advisor.