According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, healthcare is one of the fastest growing sectors of the US economy. Women represent nearly 80% of that workforce. Working in healthcare means being involved in providing direct or indirect health services to individuals. In Kitsap County, the healthcare industry is the largest source of non-military jobs. Employers include CHI Franciscan – Harrison Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, numerous care centers, retirement homes and assisted living facilities.
While the healthcare industry has become a good source of new jobs, workers in healthcare face a variety of hazards while working. These risks include injuries caused by contact with sharp objects like needles and scalpels, exposure to chemicals and hazardous medications, back injuries, latex allergies, violence and stress. In fact, cases of non-fatal occupational injury and illness with healthcare workers are among the highest of any industry. According to OSHA more workers are injured in the healthcare and social assistance industry sector than any other. This industry has one of the highest rates of work-related injuries and illnesses. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants had the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorders of all occupations in 2010.
The incidence rate of work-related musculoskeletal disorders for these occupations was 249 per 10,000 workers. This compares to the average rate for all workers in 2010 of 34. Furthermore, the healthcare industry also includes workers that perform maintenance, medical equipment maintenance, housekeeping, food services, building and grounds maintenance, and laundry. These healthcare workers are also exposed to hazards at work.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) publishes hazard alerts, including a recent alert concerning the dangers of Fentanyl exposure for first responders. L&I also has a number of SHARP articles regarding needlestick injuries and incidences of workplace violence. Healthcare workers, particularly those involved in psychiatric treatment, are frequently exposed to workplace aggression. The L&I website also contains numerous links to papers, studies, and even legislative reports regarding the prevalence of lifting injuries related to patient handling.
There is no doubt that as the healthcare industry has grown. The costs associated with treating workers injured while performing healthcare duties significantly increased as well. Many employers in the industry are actively working towards reducing workplace dangers and increase safety protocols. Their efforts should be commended. However, despite the known prevalence of workplace injuries in the healthcare industry it is not uncommon for me to represent injured workers whose healthcare related injuries and conditions are challenged, downplayed, and sometimes denied.