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July 30, 2013
Healthcare workers: More injuries and fewer protections

A new report says healthcare workers suffer more injuries and illnesses each year than those in any other industry. According to the report, OSHA conducts relatively few inspections of healthcare facilities and is limited in its authority due to an absence of needed safety standards. Keep reading to find out who’s at risk.

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According to the watchdog organization Public Citizen, nurses, nurse’s aides, orderlies, and attendants suffer more musculoskeletal injuries than workers in any other field. Costs associated with healthcare-related back injuries alone are estimated at more than $7 billion annually.

Public Citizen found that the 653,900 total injuries and illnesses reported by medical workers in 2010 was about 152,000 more than the next most afflicted sector—manufacturing. The report concluded that the construction industry, the target of most OSHA inspections, also requires more inspection and enforcement.

Although healthcare workers outnumber construction employees by more than two to one, OSHA conducts one-twentieth the number of inspections of healthcare facilities, compared with construction sites, according to the report.

OSHA not entirely at fault

Public Citizen does not hold OSHA completely to blame for the problem. “Congress has impeded OSHA’s ability to carry out its mission,” the organization says, calling the agency’s $535 million budget “woefully inadequate.” The report also found that OSHA’s rulemaking efforts have been blocked, citing the repeal by Congress of a final standard in 2000 that would have protected workers from ergonomic hazards.

Initiatives like special emphasis programs and reliance on OSHA’s General Duty Clause are not meeting the need. Public Citizen points, for example, to an OSHA special emphasis program for nursing homes. While it addresses risks, including ergonomics, bloodborne pathogens, and workplace violence, it does not cover hospitals and other healthcare settings. And only seven citations addressing ergonomics have been issued to nursing homes under the General Duty Clause in the past 2 fiscal years.

To improve the disparity, Public Citizen recommends that OSHA increase the number of inspections of healthcare facilities by severalfold and pursue binding standards to protect workers from musculoskeletal disorders, workplace violence, and other risks.

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