5 Major Risks to Health Care Workers on the Job

5 Major Risks to Health Care Workers on the Job

As ironic as it sounds, the health care industry isn’t so healthy. In 2010 alone, it had approximately 653,900 cases of illness and injury – one of the highest in the private industry sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Considering that this is 152,000 more cases than the next-most dangerous sector – manufacturing – it’s a disturbing trend indeed.

It makes sense, though Health care workers are trained to prioritize their patients above everything else, including themselves. Also, they encounter a good number of hazards on the job, like the following:

1. Ergonomic Hazards

Health care workers perform a lot of repetitive manual tasks: lifting heavy objects, holding vibrating tools and recording patients’ vital information, among others. As a result, they’re prone to upper limb disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders. Left untreated, these can cause difficulties at work – like an inability to grip or hold medical instruments – and, in the worst-case scenario, render a worker unfit for service.

Solutions: Take breaks. Perform warmup exercises to prepare for physically demanding tasks. Practice good posture at all times. Take on fewer tasks/loads at a time, or delegate the same to others.

5 Major Risks to Health Care Workers on the Job

2. Exposure to Harmful Substances

Hospital staples like IV bags, medical gauges and even baby bottles often contain toxic chemicals. Also, surgical smoke affects as many as half a million operating room workers every year. If health care workers aren’t careful with these, their patients will become the least of their worries.

Solutions: Use safety precautions when handling toxic chemicals. Dispose of used hospital implements – syringes, gloves, plastic bags – properly. Keep a first-aid kit close at all times, in case a chemical-related accident occurs.

3. Infections

For health care workers, dealing with communicable diseases is part of the job. However, they have to be careful not to be infected – lest they end up in the same position as the patients they’re supposed to treat.

Solutions: Wash hands thoroughly, before and after dealing with patients. Stay alert for news on disease outbreaks. Report any symptoms of possibly infectious illnesses to the proper authorities.

4. Psychosocial Problems

Even the most sanitary-looking hospital can have problems invisible to the naked eye – and no, we’re not referring to viruses. A typical health care worker might have to deal with workplace politics, shifting schedules, abuse from co-workers and patients, and stress – work-related or otherwise.

Solutions: Take advantage of any counseling, support and other employee assistance programs offered by the facility. Be more vocal about workplace-related issues. Request treatment for backache, depression, hypertension and other stress-induced diseases.

5. Other Issues

In the fast-paced environment of a health care facility, accidents are bound to happen. One can get pricked by a needle, slip on liquid spills on the floor or trip over poorly placed equipment near a patient’s bed. Also, fires, earthquakes and explosions can do a number on the workplace.

Solution: Even while rushing to take a patient into the ER, be alert for any safety hazards. Report any potential source of danger to the authorities. Take immediate action when an accident happens.

Health care workers need to care for themselves the way they care for their patients. If they truly want to keep people happy and healthy – as they’ve sworn to do – they need to be aware of their workplace’s hazards, and act accordingly.

Adrienne Erin is a freelance writer and designer, and she blogs at Miss Rx. You can see more of her work or get in touch by following @foodierx on Twitter.

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