Hospitals are among the most hazardous places to work, according to national injury and illness data. In 2012, U.S. hospitals recorded 250,000 work-related injuries and illnesses, producing a lost-time case rate higher than the rate in construction or manufacturing. Among the serious hazards hospital workers face while on duty are lifting and moving patients, workplace violence, slips and falls, exposure to chemicals and hazardous drugs, exposure to infectious diseases and needlesticks.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched an online resource aimed at protecting hospital workers from the dangers of the job, with a particular focus on safe-patient-handling practices, and safety and health management systems. The website offers fact books, self-assessments and best-practice guides.
“These new materials can help prevent hospital-worker injuries and improve patient safety while reducing costs,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “At the heart of these materials are the lessons from high-performing hospitals that have implemented best practices to reduce workplace injuries while also improving patient safety.”
Musculoskeletal injuries are the leading occupational injury for hospital workers, according to national injury data; in 2011 they accounted for nearly 50 percent of the reported injuries and illnesses among nurses and nursing support staff.
The online resources feature tools and guidance for assessing a hospital’s musculoskeletal-injury problem, generating management support, developing and implementing a program, choosing the right patient-lift equipment, training workers, and reviewing program effectiveness.
For years the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) has advocated for a safe-patient-handling standard, and it considers these online resources a step in the right direction.
“AIHA has long been a supporter of the effort to reduce risk factors associated with work-related musculoskeletal disorders, including those arising from the manual handling of patients,” said AIHA President Barbara J. Dawson in a statement.
In September 2013 the association sent a letter to Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., supporting a bill, the Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2013, which would establish a safe-patient-handling, mobility and injury-prevention standard. The legislation has been awaiting action in three House committees since last June.
Safety and Health Management
One of the most effective ways to reduce workplace hazards is through a “proactive, collaborative process to find and fix workplace hazards before employees are injured or become ill,” the agency said. Establishing safety and health management systems (otherwise known as injury- and illness-prevention programs) in all workplaces is a top goal for OSHA.
“With a safety and health management system, protecting safety and health evolves from being an isolated, sporadic activity to one that is integrated into all business and operational processes and activities,” OSHA said.
The agency laid out the six essential elements of a successful safety and health management system:
Leadership. Managers demonstrate their commitment to improved safety and health, communicate this commitment, and document safety and health performance. They make safety and health a top priority, establish goals and objectives, provide adequate resources and support, and set a good example.
Participation. Employees, with their distinct knowledge of the workplace, ideally are involved in all aspects of the program. They are encouraged to communicate openly with management and to report safety and health concerns.
Hazard identification. Processes and procedures are in place so organizations can continually identify workplace hazards and evaluate risks. There is an initial assessment of hazards and controls, as well as regular reassessments.
Hazard prevention and control. Programs are implemented to eliminate or control workplace hazards and to achieve safety and health goals. Progress in implementing controls is tracked.
Education and training. All employees are educated about or trained in hazard recognition and control and their responsibilities under the program.
System evaluation. Processes are established to monitor the system’s performance, verify its implementation, identify deficiencies and opportunities for improvement, and take actions to improve the system and overall safety and health performance.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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