Care workers, nursing home workers, and other health care workers are at the forefront of the nation’s epidemic of coronavirus infections, but many are not aware of the dangers posed by unsafe work environments.
As the number of new infections and deaths in these industries increases, healthcare workers and others have been urged to stay vigilant and avoid potentially unsafe work conditions.
The National Health and Medical Services Administration (NHMSA) says that as of April 18, the agency had received about 2,100 reports of health hazards related to work-related exposures and 3,700 of these have been related to healthcare workers.
The vast majority of the reported incidents occurred in hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes.
In the past year, however, the number and frequency of reports has increased, with the NHMSA reporting more than 4,000 reports related to workers in its network of 19,000 facilities nationwide.
In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says there have been about 3,800 workplace fatalities linked to workers at facilities where health hazards were reported.
However, the BLS doesn’t provide an overall number of fatalities and how many are related to workplace exposures.
While the health hazards reported to the BLSA are a concern, experts say that the actual number of deaths related to exposure to unsafe work environment is much higher.
“There is a very real risk of workers not reporting a serious health problem and actually becoming involved in the spread of the disease,” says Andrew J. Johnson, executive director of the Center for Occupational Health, Safety, and Ethics at George Washington University.
“I can think of at least four instances where workers died because of the unsafe conditions they were working in.”
In order to protect workers and ensure that they are not exposed to health hazards, healthcare providers and other employers should have protocols in place to ensure safe working conditions, including an employee’s health card and an employee ID.
These should be documented, and workers should be encouraged to report unsafe conditions if they detect one.
While it is important to ensure that healthcare workers are properly trained in how to properly identify hazards in their workplace, it is also important to know that healthcare providers are not required to do so.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that healthcare organizations and employers document all hazards in all of their facilities and ensure their employees and other employees are aware of all safety measures.
For example, if a healthcare facility reports a worker being sickened from an infected air source, the healthcare organization should also document the location and time of exposure.
However and in addition, if the healthcare provider is required to keep records of exposures, they should also be required to share those records with other healthcare providers.
“If an employer does not have a written record that documents all hazards and other incidents that occur, it will be extremely difficult to identify and correct those hazards in the future,” says Julie K. Smith, a health care policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. “The best protection of healthcare workers is to make sure that the healthcare workers have access to all the information that is available and to have a clear record of all exposures that occur and what happens to workers when there are reports of exposures.”
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommend that healthcare professionals wear respiratory protection at all times, including in healthcare settings.
Additionally, healthcare professionals should wear gloves and masks when working with patients and when taking medication.
If healthcare workers do not wear masks, they must use masks in all other situations, such as when performing physical tasks.
Healthcare professionals should be trained in their safe work environment and how to report potential health hazards.
The National Center for Health Statistics and the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins University report that the majority of healthcare professionals report having seen a healthcare worker with an infectious illness, with a high rate of exposure to the worker in the last month.
The report also states that healthcare worker fatalities are on the rise and that healthcare personnel are more likely to die of their injuries than in other workplace settings.
The health care worker should be instructed to call the health care provider if they suspect a potentially infectious worker, as well as how to contact a health provider if the worker becomes ill.
If you have a question about health care safety, contact the CDC’s Injury Prevention Information Line at 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit their website at www.cdc.gov/health/safety.