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Health Care Workers Unprotected

Insufficient Inspections and Standards Leave Safety Risks Unaddressed

July 17, 2013 — The government is required "to assure so far as possible … safe and healthful working conditions” for every employee in the United States. Employers, in turn, are obligated to furnish each of their "employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."
 
But they are not fulfilling this obligation for employees in one of the nation’s largest industries, health care, a new Public Citizen report illustrates.
 
Health care workers suffer more injuries than those in any other sector. The rates of injury for nursing aides, orderlies and attendants are off the charts, especially for musculoskeletal disorders, which often result from moving patients.
 
Even though health care workers outnumber construction workers more than two to one, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducts only about one-twentieth as many inspections of health care facilities as construction sites.
 
But the dearth of inspections only tells part of the story. OSHA also is hamstrung by an absence of standards to cite for various unsafe conditions, such as unsafe ergonomic conditions or undue risk of workplace violence. The solution to these problems is to create rules laying out requirements for employers.
 
To get there, OSHA needs to rev up its rulemaking engine. And Congress needs to join OSHA as a partner, not an opponent, in the quest to make good on the nation’s promise to protect its workers.

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