Posted on August 03, 2013 in Workers Compensation
Reports show that workers in the health care industry face the highest risk for workplace injury and illness. Nurses, aides, orderlies, attendants, physical therapists, and other healthcare employees experience more musculoskeletal injuries annually than employees in any other industry. In 2010, 653,900 workplace injuries and illnesses were reported; healthcare employees suffered 152,000 more injuries and illnesses than workers in the next highest category, manufacturing. Given what we know about the dangers faced by healthcare workers, the results of a recent study by Public Citizen highlighting poor safety standards in healthcare facilities is surprising.
The recently released study reveals that although medical facilities are the most frequent locations of workplace injuries, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducts few inspections of these facilities. There are few safety standards in place to prevent employee injuries, particularly when performing labor-intensive tasks such as lifting and patient transfers. OSHA has said that it lacks the resources to develop and implement a more comprehensive safety standard for healthcare facilities.
Other Industries Given Priority by OSHA
The Public Citizen report looked at injury rates for some of the more labor-intensive industries, including healthcare, and compared the number of OSHA inspections for each. In 2010, the construction industry employed 9.1 million people and there were 74,950 injuries that required employees to take days off of work. OSHA conducted 52,179 inspections of construction sites that year. The healthcare and social assistance sector, which employed 18.9 million people in 2010, saw a total of 176,380 injuries that required employees to take time off. Only 2,504 OSHA inspections of healthcare and social assistance facilities took place.
One potential reason for the disparity in OSHA regulation between these industries is the severity of the injuries suffered in each. Workplace injuries for construction employees are much more likely to be fatal; 774 construction workers died in 2010, compared to 141 healthcare worker deaths. This, however, does not justify the lack of regulation of working conditions for healthcare workers.
OSHA Regulations Do Help Keep Health Care Workers Safe
In the 1990s, OSHA did have some success in passing safety regulations specifically targeting healthcare facilities. The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, passed in 1991, has dramatically reduced the spread of infectious diseases among healthcare employees. The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2000 went even further to ensure proper handling of hazardous materials. Both of these regulations have been largely successful in their implementation without causing a financial strain on businesses. Attempting to draft and pass these regulations, however, is an uphill battle for OSHA, whose standards must be approved by Congress before taking effect.
The study concluded by offering some suggestions to address the gaping holes in safety standards for healthcare facilities. To prevent back injuries and other musculoskeletal injuries, the use of a lifting device or aid should be required when moving or transferring patients. The authors suggest extending the current bloodborne pathogen standards to require a thorough log of all sharp device injuries, updated technology for disposal of sharp devices, and employee input on new sharp device purchases. Employers should adopt a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence and threats of violence, and employees who report these instances should be protected. Most importantly, OSHA must fulfill its commitment to ensure a safe workplace for every employee by increasing the number of healthcare facility inspections and developing new protective legislation.
If you or a loved one has suffered a workplace injury or illness in a healthcare facility, an experienced Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation attorney can help you file a claim and get you the care you deserve. The Media, PA injury law firm of Schmidt, Kirifides, & Fridkin will help you through every step of your Workers’ Compensation case with compassion and care. With offices located in Media and Philadelphia, PA and Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients throughout Montgomery County, Chester County, Delaware County, Philadelphia County, Bucks County, and Berks County. Call us toll-free at 1-877-268-6466 or contact us online to speak to one of our qualified Workers’ Compensation attorneys.