The Most Dangerous Industry For Workers

health care injuriesWhere do most workplace injuries happen? Oil drilling, you might think, or construction, or truck driving. But in an ironic twist, the workers in the most dangerous industry don't have to go very far if they get injured; they work in the health care sector.

According to a new report by Public Citizen's Congress Watch, a consumer advocacy group, nearly half -- 45 percent -- of all incidents of workplace violence that result in lost workdays occur in the health care industry. Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants are seven times more likely than the average worker to suffer musculoskeletal disorders (requiring days off work), according to the latest data, and also seven times more likely to be injured in an assault on the job.

"I think a lot of the reasons may have to do with people being on medication, and being off medication," explains Keith Wreightson, the work safety and health advocate at Public Citizen's Congress Watch, and a co-author of the report. He believes many of the violent incidents occur in psychiatric facilities, and in general, "a lot of people are not particularly happy to be in a health care facility. They're angry."

Workplace Not Monitored: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal body tasked with ensuring workplace safety, devotes only a fraction of its attention to the health care industry compared to other high-risk occupations, according to the Congress Watch report, which was created with assistance from the Service Employees International Union. Part of the reason is that there are only a tiny number of regulations on the books that affect the sector.

"If they show up in a health care facility, there's nothing to cite them on, fine them on, write them up on, or say anything about it," says Wreightson. "... Employers in the health care industry are more likely to be cited for frayed electrical cords over physical harm or ergonomic harm to an employee."

And while injury rates are falling in other risky professions, in the health care industry, injuries and illnesses are rising. Workplace violence alone, which OSHA calls "a recognized hazard" in the industry, jumped 13 percent between 2009 and 2010.

Enormous Number of Cases: The private health care industry doesn't have the highest rate for all injuries and illnesses, but with such a enormous workforce, it has the highest number. In 2010, there were almost 654,000 cases in the health and social assistance sector, 152,000 more cases than the next highest -- manufacturing. And when it comes to back injuries, disease, and workplace violence, health care workers are particularly vulnerable, the report states, with rates far exceeding the national average. Health care workers experience percutaneous injuries -- punctures of the skin with sharp instruments or needles -- 400,000 times a year, which can pose a high risk of exposure to HIV and hepatitis.

Despite the staggering number of injuries among health care workers, the report documents how OSHA conducts very few inspections of health care workplaces. Employers in the health care and social assistance sector reported more than twice the number of injuries than employers in construction, yet OSHA conducted more than 52,000 inspections of construction sites in 2010, compared to 2,500 inspections of health care facilities. At the same time, the report adds, construction workers are far more likely to die on the job than anyone working in health care.

More: 10 Warning Signs Of Workplace Violence

"Thirty years ago we had an economy that was based on industry and manufacturing and we've drastically stepped away from that in a matter of years," says Wreightson. "OSHA has not been able to kept up with that pace increase. ... It's completely blinded them essentially that health care is now the biggest industry in the United States."

The Public Citizen's Congress Watch recommends more standards in the industry, such as one concerning ergononomic stressors to reduce back injuries and a zero-tolerance approach to verbal and physical abuse. When OSHA issued a new rule in 1991 requiring health care facilities to offer free hepatitis B vaccinations, the report points out, infections declined from 17,000 cases in 1983 to 400 in 1995.

But new regulations are always tricky to pass, particularly in recent years. OSHA actually issued an ergonomics standard in 2000, but in 2001, the House and Senate repealed it before it took effect.

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This has nothing to do with people being "off their medication". I firmly believe it has everything to do with the sheer frustration patients are experiencing. Nurses and office people are hardened, even cold towards those who are truly suffering. I have a friend who checked HERSELF in for feeling suicidal but they treated her like a drug addict, since most of their clients were drug addicts, so they mindlessly reverted to a "tough love" stance, which meant putting a woman suffering from Aplastic Anemia and a very depressed immune system (she was suicidal because she's been fighting this fatal illness for so long w/ very ilttle help) in a freezing cold room on a metal stretcher w/ no blankets, to "teach her a lesson" about being a drug user - even though she wasn't one. She BEGGED them to read her chart and they simply did not. She begged them to call her hemotologist. They refused. She never should have sought help because they almost killed her. Even the slightest rough handling causes bleeding w/ aplastic anemia - she doesn't have nearly enough platelets or red blood cells and has to be on oxygen. They took away her oxygen, saying she just wanted it for "attention". All this without reading her chart. I've been bullied by doctors and nurses, too. Then they mess up your prescriptions and it's up to you to try to get it sorted out - no help from anyone in the medical field. And for all this, those of us with severe illnesses are paying as much as 900/month for these "services". Many people are in the medical field ONLY for the stability or money it brings them. They have no interest in healing or helping other human beings. Many are from cultures where sick people are just done away with, not comforted or pampered, and they see sickness as a sign of "weakness", as if the patient willed themselves to be sick. This attitude brings on a feeling of helpless fear, which in many people can turn to rage, especially when they feel their very survival may be at stake. Add to this the noise, the constantly being awakened at night leading to long term sleep deprivation in hospitals, the pain...the hospital is not a place to heal. Why must everyone talk at the top of their lungs at 3am? The nurses are the worst. You're trying to sleep and they're gossiping right outside your doorway. Then the flourescent lights are known to be an irritant. I can see why people snap. They can't get the attention of those who are supposed to be helping them, they can't get them to read the CHART, they are brutalized by people who've never done a procedure, using them for practice, they are sleep deprived, pain is not handled properly so they're in pain... And then the medical system blames the patient for the outcome of being upset! They are drunk on their power. I had a nurse tell me not to make any complaints about how my grandfather was being treated because "he's 92, he's going to die anyway" WHAT? We transfered him out of that place and now he's 98 and very active.

November 13 2013 at 10:37 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

It is NOT people being on or off medication. I work in healthcare and it is more an acceptance thing. People think (or hope) they can boss their disease around. Denial and fear lead to behaviors such as violence or crying or gut problems etc. Don't fool yourself about this.

November 13 2013 at 9:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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