Risk of Injuries for Hospital Workers
The Hospital Emergency Room is a Risky Place to Work
The hospital emergency room can be a rewarding, yet dangerous, place to work. While some injuries to workers may be inevitable due to the nature of the work, employers are required to minimize the risks and to provide employees, including medical doctors, with certain protections.
One way in which workers can get hurt is by coming into contact with the blood of an individual who comes to the ER seeking emergency care. Federal regulations require that employers ensure that employees wear appropriate protective gear and that they follow proper protocols to reduce the risk of spreading infectious diseases.
Employees can also be at risk from dangerous chemicals used in the treatment of patients or attacks of bioterrorism. OSHA has provided guidance to hospitals about how to deal with both types of risks.
Certain infections such as tuberculosis and MRSA are of particular concern. The CDC published guidelines for dealing with highly infectious and hard to treat conditions such as these in 2007. Of course, there are other ways in which employees can get hurt. The ER is a stressful place to work. There can be stress related injuries and there can be workplace violence. The fast pace of the emergency room can lead to slip and fall injuries and other accidents.
Most emergency room workers understand the risks associated with their work and the importance of their jobs in our society. It is important that they also understand their employer's responsibilities to minimize those risks.
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Medical Support Staff Can Be at Serious Risk of Injury
A hospital staff is made up of much more than doctors, nurses and administrators. In order to make the hospital run smoothly staff such as housekeepers and laundry attendants must be employed. While their duties do not include providing direct medical services and they do not need to have a medical background, their responsibilities and work environment are different from their counterparts in hotels and other industries.
Support staffs members, such as housekeepers, need to know how to respond to potentially contaminated work environments. For example, they need to understand what to do if they come into contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials. According to the CDC, the Hepatitis B virus can live in dried blood for about a week. Therefore, housekeeping staff must be instructed about precautions that they need to take to avoid contracting Hepatitis B or any other infectious disease. Also, they must use approved and effective disinfectants to minimize the chance of infection.
Employees who work with the hospital's laundry are also at risk from infection if they come into contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials. Employees are at particular risk of contracting an infectious disease during the rinsing phase of the laundering. They are also at risk of injury from syringes or medical equipment that were not appropriately discarded but were instead thrown on bed linens or in a hamper. Of course, the very weight of the laundry can be harmful to an employee's back.
Medical staff and patients count on support staff such as housekeepers and laundry attendants to keep the hospital running smoothly and to keep patients safe and comfortable. It is important that hospitals take similar steps to make sure that all employees also remain safe in the course of their employment.
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Surgery is Not Without Risks for Doctors and Staff
Surgeons and surgical nurses perform important work that is designed to decrease patients' pain and save their lives. However, the surgical suite is not without risks for doctors and nurses.
For example, if anesthesia is not properly administered or if there is a problem with the machine or its tubes and anesthesia leaks into the operating room then there can be potential adverse health effects for everyone in that room. In the short term, employees may experience dizziness, nausea or loss of consciousness. However, more serious side effects can also occur including cancer, liver and kidney disease and fertility problems. Accordingly, OSHA has issued a document called Anesthetic Gases: Guidelines for Workplace Exposure to help protect medical workers from the dangers of anesthesia.
Other dangers associated with coming into contact with the patient's blood and the use of sharp medical tools is also present in the surgical suite. OSHA and the CDC have provided guidelines to physicians and hospitals to minimize these risks. Most hospitals provide regular training for personnel in order to minimize these risks.
Medical personnel can also be at risk for other types of injuries that are common across a variety of industries. For example, they can be at risk for slip and fall injuries and injuries resulting from standing in awkward positions in order to complete their jobs.
While surgery is not without risk for either the patient or the surgical staff, it is an important part of modern health care and medical facilities can take positive steps to reduce those risks.
Maintaining Safety Standards in the Medical Lab
Americans count on hospital laboratories to conduct important research that leads to better medical treatment. Often, the work conducted in the laboratory involves dangerous chemicals and substances as lab workers try to find the cure for a disease or the proper ingredients for a new vaccine or treatment.
In order to protect the lab workers upon whom we rely, each employer is required to write and implement a Chemical Hygiene Plan. The Chemical Hygiene Plan should be laboratory specific. The University of Illinois has a model plan on its website and explains that such a plan is required by law to improve laboratory safety. In order to encourage compliance with this requirement, many grants require proof that such a plan is in place.
The risk is present not just for scientists but also for housekeeping staff. One study indicated that 46% of laboratory housekeepers were hurt between 1985-1988 and that 65% of housekeepers did not always report their injuries. The majority of the injuries resulted from handling glass in the labs.
Proper methods of infection control and use of chemicals exist and when they are properly implemented the risk to workers is greatly diminished. Therefore, every staff member from the scientist to the housekeeper should be aware of proper lab protocols and how to protect themselves from cuts, chemicals and infectious substances.