Healthcare Workforce & Occupational Injuries-A Safety Professional’s Perspective on Solutions

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Author: Randall B. Charpentier, HEM, President/Principal Consultant – HealthSafe New England 

 back injuryMore 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. In 2010, the healthcare and social assistance industry reported more injury and illness cases than any other private industry sector — 653,900 cases (Table 2 (PDF)). That is 152,000 more cases than the next industry sector: manufacturing. In 2010, the incidence rate for work related nonfatal injuries and illnesses in health care and social assistance was 139.9; the incidence rate for nonfatal injury and illnesses in all private industry was 107.7.  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.

Healthcare workers face a number of serious safety and health hazards. They include bloodborne pathogens and biological hazards, potential chemical and drug exposures, waste anesthetic gas exposures, respiratory hazards, ergonomic hazards from lifting and repetitive tasks, laser hazards, workplace violence, hazards associated with laboratories, and radioactive material and x-ray hazards. Some of the potential chemical exposures include formaldehyde, used for preservation of specimens for pathology; ethylene oxide, glutaraldehyde, and paracetic acid used for sterilization; and numerous other chemicals used in healthcare laboratories. (https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/healthcarefacilities/index.html).

As an experienced Safety Professional in the healthcare sector, I have discovered that solving this problem is complicated, yet simple. I’ll attempt to outline below.  Having served as an EH&S Director for two large teaching hospitals, I became immersed in the culture of Patients First in Everything we do, before it became a marketing message.  I worked hand in hand with Department Heads, Quality/Risk Management, Human Resources and Occupational Health.  I attended monthly injury reviews with our workers compensation attorney and insurance carrier.  The content of these meetings were confidential however, the one message I always took away from these meetings is it’s the cost of doing business in healthcare.  I am grateful for that experience because I later learned in my career that it doesn’t have to be that way.  Workers Compensation laws vary from state to state and can slant towards the employer or employee depending upon which state you are in.  By in large, they serve as employee protection in the event they experience a work related injury and are a valuable benefit.  Let’s face it, no one wants to get injured at work.

During the healthcare mega merger activity in the late 80’s, early 90’s, I decided to alter my career path slightly by joining forces with a top ten international property and casualty insurance firm.  They employed a culture based, behavioral safety management philosophy with their monoline workers compensation accounts that assisted employers with incorporating this philosophy of “accidents are preventable”, predictable, and unacceptable© into their business model.  I managed a healthcare portfolio ranging from 3-12 million in policy premium throughout the region as a senior accident prevention consultant.  It is through that experience that I learned when senior, middle management and lightbulb philosophyline staff embraces this, or a similar philosophy, that organizations can significantly reduce their costs, exposures, and risks associated with occupational injuries.

With the next wave of uncertainty upon us in the healthcare sector, will hospitals, long term care facilities and nursing homes finally embrace this accident prevention philosophy and connect the dot to patient safety?  I’m seeing the same trend as in the mega merger period with hospital consolidation, downsizing, and instituting cost savings measures that are bound to impact patient staff, and visitor safety.  What is different this time around though is that CMS is watching!  Are senior executives going to realize this time around that by not addressing this critical operational issue, that their bottom line will continue to shrink exponentially?  I’m hopeful.  The resources are abundant in addressing this topic.  Clinical experts are publishing cutting edge articles, blogs, authoring books, speaking engagements, trainings on cultural impact, bridging the gap between senior management and staff, emotional intelligence.  (A small sampling of what you’ll find at Confident Voices Blog or use “search” box to explore!)

Every facility should be utilizing OSHA’s resources in addition to their insurance carriers/brokers resources and retaining professional consultants to positively impact their organizations.

CMS is measuring safety and quality in healthcare facilities basing reimbursement on your outcomes.  Do you measure up?  If not, you should conduct a risk assessment.  Are YOU compliance or results driven? You may contact HSNE/Randall for additional information:  rcharp@hsnellc.com., www.hsnellc.com, or linkedin profile https://www.linkedin.com/nhome/?trk=

Randy CharpentierRandall is a 20 year experienced, safety and risk management consultant specializing in healthcare compliance.   Project experience ranges from leading teams on the construction of the west coast space shuttle project, working internationally & domestically for leading environmental engineering firms conducting real estate assessments involving occupational and environmental risks, assessing business operational risks concerning commercial insurance policies, and reducing/eliminating exposures/hazards, to leading world renowned, top ten/one hundred community based & BioMedical Research/Teaching hospitals, with development and management of environmental health and safety management programs.  HSNE’s/Randall’s passion is keeping patients, staff and visitors safe in a healthcare setting.

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2 Responses to Healthcare Workforce & Occupational Injuries-A Safety Professional’s Perspective on Solutions

  1. Pingback: Who are the Experts Who Write for Confident Voices?-Meet Randy Charpentier Healthcare Safety & Risk Management Consultant

  2. Beth_Boynton_RN_MS says:

    Randy, thank you for your insights about this issue. The culture and management philosophy you are talking about sounds effective and supportive. I hope that you will write more for us. Your early experiences are telling too because this idea that injuries to healthcare workers are perceived by some as the cost of doing business is pervasive and tragic. People who are working so hard to help other people? They get hurt and then abandoned? Or ‘we’ know they’ll get hurt and don’t care?

    I remember reading once that 100% of nurses suffered some degree of back pain…can imagine this is true for LNAs and CNAs too. I also know from my work as an Occ Health Nurse years ago and my own work-related injury that injured employees are not often not supported or even treated disrespectfully because they are presumed to be “milking the system”. I know many nurses and assts who don’t report injuries b/c they have seen their peers or have themselves be mistreated. This means OSHA logs are inaccurate, people are working in pain, prevention efforts don’t get addressed….Employers or WC insurance companies save money with such outcomes and I’m not sure if they have incentive to change.

    It is another powerful example of why we need to build positive work cultures and relationships between staff and leaders.

    Beth

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