How Hospitals Can Protect Healthcare Workers from Harm

While hospitals and healthcare facilities aim to promote healing, their unique risks, environment and culture can make them one of the most hazardous places to work. For example, care providers often lift and move patients, handle sharp equipment (such as needles), encounter various substances and face combative or agitated patients and visitors. 

According to the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), U.S. hospitals record 5.5 work-related injuries for every 100 full-time employees—that’s nearly twice the injury rate of private industry. OSHA states that hospitals are even more dangerous than manufacturing and construction, which are typically considered to be risky fields.

OSHA cites a Bureau of Labor Statistics report detailing the top causes of injury among hospital workers, which include:

  • overexertion and bodily reaction (48%);
  • slips, trips and falls (25%);
  • contact with objects (13%);
  • violence (9%);
  • exposure to substances (4%); and
  • all other causes (1%).

It’s important to address these issues to protect both the safety and wellbeing of healthcare workers and to promote better patient care. OSHA emphasizes that many of the hazards that patients and caregivers encounter are connected, such as injury from moving a patient or slipping in a hallway. Furthermore, caregiver fatigue, stress and injury are linked to higher risks of medication errors and patient infections.

Strategies to Improve Healthcare Worker Safety

OSHA encourages hospitals to develop a safety and health management system, also known as an injury and illness prevention program, which aims to proactively address hazards before injuries occur. Successful programs typically include:

  • management leadership;
  • employee participation;
  • hazard identification;
  • hazard prevention and control;
  • education and training; and
  • program evolution and improvement.

As violence in healthcare becomes more pervasive, an article published by American Nurse describes how community-policing strategies can also boost security. The authors explain that many hospitals rely on a one-size-fits-all approach to combatting violence, relying on restraint orders, behavioral contracts and more. However, they point out, these actions don’t effectively prevent violence from occurring and they do little to relieve staff stress and anxiety.

Instead, they recommend viewing each hospital floor as a unique “neighborhood.” Within these micro-communities, they encourage hospital staff and security units to work together to:

  • develop trust and communication to address potentially hazardous situations before they escalate;
  • utilize scenario-based training that allows teams to prevent and respond to incidents quickly;
  • conduct risk assessments; and
  • compassionately investigate incidents, reviewing the work environment and developing customized safety plans for victims of workplace violence.

Lawmakers are also working on a broader scale to introduce legislation that protects hospital employees from violence. For example, some states are aiming to increase the penalties of those who threaten or harm healthcare workers.

For more information on optimizing hospital and healthcare facility employee safety, see additional MLMIC resources here.