Hospitals can be dangerous workplaces. According to current statistics from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 6.8 out of every 100 full-time hospital employees were hurt on the job during 2011. This rate is almost twice as high as the injury prevalence rate in private industry. Hospital workers in Illinois run an elevated risk of needing workers’ compensation benefits, as any attorney will confirm.
A number of environmental factors contribute to the risk of working in a hospital. Employees must often perform strenuous tasks for patients whose mobility may be limited. Needles, blades, toxic waste and other dangers can pose a serious threat to workers. Events in hospitals are often quick and unpredictable. When a medical situation escalates and becomes life-threatening, workers may need to take extreme measures and put themselves at risk of physical injury.
Hospital staff injuries are tragically prevalent
More than 58,000 workers in American hospitals were injured seriously enough to miss at least one day of work during 2011, according to OSHA. Lost-time injury is higher in hospital work than in heavy manufacturing or construction. Hospital injury rates are almost three times as high as the corresponding rates in business and professional services.
These figures refer only to hospital workers who are so severely injured that they must report their accident to supervisors, seek medical care and miss one or more days on the job. Many hospital injuries are chronic or gradual. These injuries often slip under the radar and are not counted in the official statistics. Worker advocates estimate that actual injury rates among hospital staff may be as much as three times higher than the official statistics.
How are hospital workers most often injured?
OSHA statistics show that most injuries among hospital workers fall into five common categories:
- Musculoskeletal injury (approximately 48 percent)
- Slips and falls (approximately 25 percent)
- Contact with heavy or dangerous equipment (approximately 13 percent)
- Violent assault (approximately 9 percent)
- Exposure to biohazards or poisons (approximately 4 percent)
All five of these primary dangers are a considerable threat to people who work in hospitals, clinics and long-term nursing facilities.
Risk factor #1: Back strain
Patient lifting and handling is an important part of hospital work. When staff must lift and bend regularly, they run the risk of serious back injuries. The growing prevalence of obesity among patients has made this task even more dangerous. A physically small nurse or orderly may be asked to lift or turn a morbidly obese patient weighing several hundred pounds. OSHA statistics show that more than 16,000 hospital workers miss at least one day on the job each year because of lifting injuries.
Back injuries are the most common hospital injuries. They are also notoriously hard to recover from. Many Illinois nurses consult a workers’ compensation attorney to access benefits after they are disabled by a back injury on the job.
Risk factor #2: Dangerous falls
Hospital floors can be dangerously slippery. When staff are working quickly to ensure the safety and comfort of patients, they are at risk of a serious fall. According to OSHA, thousands of nurses and orderlies fall on the job each year. Falling can cause head injury, neck injury, traumatic brain injury and broken bones. The aftermath of a fall can require months of rehabilitation, even among young and healthy staff.
Risk factor #3: Equipment hazards
Hospitals are full of powerful equipment that can be used to save lives. Unfortunately, this equipment is often hazardous to hospital workers. X-ray machines and scanners can cause physical danger to employees. Heavy objects can fall on workers, causing fractures and head trauma. Heat, cold, electricity and vibration can also be hazards for people who come into contact with them on the job.
Risk factor #4: Violence
Patient violence is one of the greatest threats of hospital work. As hospitals care for more patients and cut their rosters of full-time staff, workers are often overwhelmed with their case loads. Stress among patients may cause violent outbursts or altercations. People with dementia or cognitive disabilities may react violently to perceived offenses. Patients under the influence of drugs are also more prone to acts of violence against caregivers.
Many hospital staff are not properly trained to cope with the threat of violence on the job. As a result, thousands of people in hospitals are injured every year, some of them seriously enough to require disability benefits.
Risk factor #5: Hazardous substances
Many hazardous substances are present in hospitals and long-term care facilities. A needle stick can transmit hepatitis or HIV. Overworked nurses and cleaning staff may be forced to dispose of biohazards without sufficient training or safety equipment. A single slip in safety protocol can cause a life-threatening infection.
Poisonous medicines and radioactive substances are also a danger to hospital workers. People who come into contact with these substances should always use proper protective gear and stay informed with up-to-date training about the items they are handling. Lack of information may lead to deadly exposure among unsuspecting workers. This category of injuries and illnesses is relatively small, corresponding to only one out of 25 cases among hospital staff, but it can be a fatal threat.
By keeping aware of these five primary dangers, hospital workers can stay safe on the job and care for patients more effectively. Speaking with a Illinois workers’ compensation attorney may be useful for nurses who have been injured at work.