The healthcare industry is one of the biggest and fastest growing industries worldwide. Particularly in the United States, the unprecedented percentage of population reaching age 65+ in the next ten to twenty years will cause demand to surge. With healthcare jobs projected to grow by 3.2 million by 2018, many jobseekers may be attracted to the booming industry. However, while a career in healthcare brings many benefits, there are also risks associated with the field. Unfortunately, healthcare workers are among the leading occupations at risk for on-the-job injuries.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2009 reported that 18% of all reported workplace injuries and illnesses were suffered by workers in the health and social care industry. While other high-risk occupations reported declines in injuries, healthcare workers saw no improvement year to year. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), categories of potential hazards for healthcare workers are:
OSHA defines biological risks as, “Infectious/biological agents, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites that may be transmitted by contact with infected patients or contaminated body secretions/fluids.” Given the very nature of the medical field, to treat the ill or infirm, obviously medical workers are at greater risk of illness due to exposure to biological hazards.
These hazards are defined as, “Various forms of chemicals that are potentially toxic or irritating to the body system, including medications, solutions, and gases.” This risk emerges in part due to healthcare workers regularly handling or working around chemicals such as prescription medications, sedation gases, and harsh disinfecting and cleaning agents.
Psychological hazards are, “Factors and situations encountered or associated with one’s job or work environment that create or potentiate stress, emotional strain, and/or other interpersonal problems.” As demand for healthcare often outpaces worker supply, current workers can become overworked and overtaxed, particularly in large volume, stressful areas like emergency rooms.
This is defined as, “Agents within the work environment that can cause tissue trauma.” Though some examples include exposure to radiation and lasers, of particular concern are needlestick/sharps injuries. Needstick/sharp injuries often combine physical, biological and/or chemical injuries — not only does the accidental puncturing of the skin by these objects cause tissue injury, it can also expose workers to damaging agents like infected blood or dangerous medications. The World Health Organization estimates that about 2 million healthcare workers are exposed to infectious diseases as a result of needlestick injuries. Also, workplace violence encompasses physical and psychological risks, and is an all-too-common hazard in the healthcare industry. In 2008, the Department of Labor Statistics reported that those in the healthcare industry are almost twice as likely as those in other private fields to suffer injuries from workplace violence.
These are “factors encountered in the work environment that cause or potentiate accidents, injuries, strain or discomfort.” Injuries can result from common accidents like slipping on wet floors, tripping on equipment, to more industry particular injuries such as back or muscle injury due to the moving and lifting of patients. Dental hygienists, for example, are at particular risk of carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of their repetitive and detailed work causing hand and arm strain.
While a career in the healthcare industry is often rewarding, the dangers inherent in the field mean workers must be even more diligent and cautious in protecting their own health. If you have been injured or made ill as a result of working in a health care position, contact a Chicago workers compensation lawyer who can assist you.
About the Author: Brooke Haley marketing associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation lawyer that practice in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers’ Compensation, and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts within the State of Illinois. For more information, please visit http://www.millonpeskin.com.