(USA TODAY) -- Health
care workers suffer more injuries and illnesses on the job than those in
any other industry, thanks in large part to limited federal safety
standards and inspections of health care facilities, says a new report
by a national advocacy non-profit.
by Public Citizen shows health care workers had about 654,000 workplace
injuries and illnesses in 2010, about 152,000 more than the next most
afflicted industry sector, manufacturing. Even though health care
workers outnumber construction workers 2-1, the agency responsible for
worker safety - the Occupational Safety and Health Administration -
conducts nearly 20 times more inspections of construction sites than
health care sites, according to the Public Citizen report.
record is clear that the government has broken its promise to health
care workers," said Keith Wrightson, worker safety and health advocate
for Public Citizen and co-author of the report. Health care workers face
a wide range of hazards on the job, including needle sticks, back
injuries from lifting patients and moving equipment, latex allergies and
violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although the severity of injuries in the manufacturing sector could
explain the volume of inspections, the report says OSHA's limited
resources - $535 million for fiscal year 2013 to monitor 7 million work
sites - are to blame.
"In fairness to OSHA, these industries
still witness more fatalities. But, health care is undoubtedly deserving
of significantly more inspections than it currently gets," said Taylor
Lincoln, a research director at Public Citizen and co-author of the
OSHA officials did not respond directly to the report. But
in a 2010 statement on the issue, the head of the agency, Assistant
Secretary of Labor David Michaels, acknowledged safety problems must be
"It is unacceptable that the workers who have
dedicated their lives to caring for our loved ones when they are sick
are the very same workers who face the highest risk of work-related
injury and illness," Michaels wrote in response to a 2010 OSHA study
that found high numbers of work-related injuries in the health care
The agency has implemented several health care safety
standards, including a blood-borne pathogens standard which requires
exposure, control, storage and disposal of sharp devices and needles.
State laws and employer mandates also require safe patient handling,
the agency lacks a specific standard to measure and reduce physical
stress from activities like prolonged exertion of the hands and lifting
patients - also known as ergonomic standards. A 2000 law requiring
health facilities to protect employees from ergonomic stressors was
repealed by Congress in early 2001.
OSHA rebounded by creating a
National Emphasis Program to address worker safety. The program - which
covers nursing homes and residential care facilities - issued only
seven citations for unsafe ergonomic conditions since October 2011, the
report says. Other citations for unsafe conditions are filed under the
agency's catch-all "general duty clause" - a clause that requires the
agency to provide a large amount of evidence to prove claims, OSHA said
in response to questions by the advocacy group.
orderlies and attendees who often exert themselves physically by
lifting patients out of beds or pushing medical equipment have the
highest rate of musculoskeletal injuries than workers in any other
field, costing the U.S. about $7 billion annually, according to data
from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By contrast, two of the most
hazardous industries - agriculture and construction - are safer today
than they were a decade ago, according to the CDC.
In a statement,
OHSA wrote it does not have "resources to move forward on all
rule-making necessary to address all the pressing workplace health and
The report recommends safety standards that
require the use of lifting and transfer aids to encourage safe patient
handling, a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence and periodic
reviews of the safety of sharp devices.
"Establishing a culture of
safety for safe patient handling and mobility is a paradigm shift, much
like wearing gloves and protective equipment for all blood and body
fluid precautions was 20 years ago," said Suzy Harrington, director of
the American Nurses Association's health and safety division.
report also warns that additional OSHA funding is needed to
"dramatically increase" the number of inspections and enforce new
legislation," especially as the number of Baby Boomers requiring care
grows over time.
"We can't afford to lose health care workers to injury and still meet rising demands for health care services," Harrington said.
Fatimah Waseem, USA TODAY