The Occupational Safety and Health Administration classifies any person who provides direct or indirect health services as a health care worker. This includes not only hospitals and nursing facilities but also dental offices, laboratories, physicians' offices, residential care, outpatient care facilities and more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says approximately 18,000 people work in this industry nationwide, and this is about 300,000 more than in 2017.
The list of hazards that health care workers face is endless. If you are working in this fast-growing industry in Illinois, the best way to protect yourself from harm may be to learn more about the typical hazards of the industry. While each division might pose unique risks, some dangers threaten workers across the industry.
Universal hazards for health care workers:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorizes overall hazards for health care workers broadly into the following three categories:
- Physical risks: Along with the physical exposure to lasers, radioactive materials, x-rays and workplace violence, you may potentially suffer musculoskeletal injuries while lifting and moving patients or doing tasks that require repetitive motions.
- Chemical and drug hazards: Agents used for sanitizing and cleaning along with some substances you will come across in medical laboratories are chemical hazards. Drug hazards can include those administered as aerosols or gases and also anti-cancer medication.
- Infectious agents: Pathogens that can cause diseases include viruses, bacteria and fungi, and blood-borne pathogens can cause dreaded diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, Ebola and swine flu.
There are numerous steps employers and employees can take to create safer workplaces for health care workers. Many of the following precautions can enhance not only the safety of employees but also patients:
- Infection control: Such a program must address sanitation, hand washing, disposal of sharp instruments and needles, and personal protective equipment. Exposure can occur directly or indirectly by air-borne particles, contact with infected patients, or by touching contaminated surfaces or objects like door handles.
- Patient handling: Provision of ergonomic devices can limit musculoskeletal Examples of such devices include shower cars, wheelchairs, slide boards and hoisting devices.
- Violence prevention: OSHA recommends a zero-tolerance policy that covers employees, visitors, patients and others who interact with health care Common threats of workplace violence include physical violence, disruptive behavior, intimidation and harassment.
- Hazardous material handling: Following OSHA guidelines for the handling of each hazardous material might be the most appropriate precaution. A wide variety of risks exists, including allergens like latex, drugs such as anesthetic gases, chemicals like formaldehyde and ethylene oxide, and physical agents such as radiation.
The challenge of obtaining benefits
Some of the injuries and illnesses you could suffer as a health care worker in Illinois may develop over time and with no specific date of occurrence, making obtaining workers' compensation insurance benefits quite the challenge. Fortunately, there are resources readily available who can help you navigate the administrative and legal proceedings in pursuit of benefits to cover your medical expenses and lost income.