Public Citizen Welcomes OSHA Program on Safety for Health Care Workers

Jan. 15, 2014

Public Citizen Welcomes OSHA Program on Safety for Health Care Workers

Caring for Our Caregivers’  a Positive Step for Reducing Injuries From Patient Lifting and Handling

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen welcomed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) announcement today of new tools and a road map for the health care industry to address job hazards associated with patient lifting, handling and repositioning in health care facilities.

Public Citizen applauds the creation of this program, which is directly responsive to research produced by Public Citizen in conjunction with the American Nurses Association and the Service Employees International Union.

The Public Citizen report, published in July 2013, showed that health care workers suffer more injuries and illnesses on the job each year than those in any other industry. In 2010, health care employers reported 653,900 workplace injuries and illnesses, about 152,000 more than the next most afflicted industry sector, manufacturing.

The program announced today is intended to encourage employers to implement health and safety management systems, known as injury and illness prevention programs. Now, the agency should take the next step and require such programs in a rule and set a safe patient handling standard to address ergonomic stressors and musculoskeletal disorders.

“OSHA’s program is an important first step because it gives employers and employees the tools needed to foster open discussions on how to lift patients safely in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities,” said Keith Wrightson, worker safety and health advocate for Public Citizen. “We look forward to the agency taking further measures to improve safety for the health care workers who are so frequently injured.”

Added Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, “The record is clear that injury and illness prevention programs have delivered a reduction in workplace injuries and illnesses. We are pleased that OSHA is moving the ball to begin to deal with this problem. We urge the agency to take the next step and make programs like this required in a rule, as well as setting a safe patient handling standard.”

An injury and illness prevention program is a framework for employers and workers to plan, implement and evaluate safety and health management systems. Management systems such as these can change the culture of safety and health in a workplace, and OSHA points to numerous case studies in today’s announcement where similar programs have been successful in reducing health care worker injuries.

One initiative that OSHA cites is being undertaken in Florida at Tampa General Hospital. There, since developing a dedicated employee injury prevention program, the hospital has seen a 65 percent decrease in patient handling injuries, a 90 percent decrease in lost work days and a 92 percent reduction in worker compensation cost per dollar of payroll.

Nurses, nursing aides, orderlies and attendants suffer more musculoskeletal injuries than workers in any other field. Costs associated with back injuries in the health care industry are estimated to be more than $7 billion annually.

If employers follow OSHA’s program, they could see a significant reduction in the annual cost associated with workplace injuries. But the agency needs to take further steps, including requiring such programs in a rule and initiating a rulemaking to set a safe patient handling standard.

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