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U.S. Health Care Industry Opposes Worker Safety Rules Even Though Their Employees Suffer the Most Injuries

July 8, 2015

U.S. Health Care Industry Opposes Worker Safety Rules Even Though Their Employees Suffer the Most Injuries

In Contrast, Federal Agencies and Health Care Worker Advocacy Groups Want Better Safe Patient Handling Laws

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Although nurses suffer more injuries requiring time off than workers in any other industry, the leading representatives of the health care industry oppose protective regulatory measures but fail to offer alternative remedies, a new Public Citizen report (PDF) shows.

Many of the injuries suffered by health care workers are musculoskeletal disorders, which result from moving or repositioning patients without adequate assistive technology. As Public Citizen’s research has demonstrated, these injuries can be career-ending events for many nurses. But safe patient handling practices have been shown to reduce injuries and save health care providers money.

For the report, “Little Support From Above,” Public Citizen asked several of the leading health care trade associations how they believe the problem of employee injuries from patient handling should be addressed. None of the organizations offered a meaningful response.

In the past, the American Hospital Association opposed the Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2009, which would have required the U.S. Department of Labor to develop patient handling rules. Furthermore, the Coalition for Workplace Safety (led in part by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), the American Health Care Association and its affiliated National Center for Assisted Living have opposed rules intended to increase the reporting of injuries.

“It is a cruel irony that an industry devoted to health shows such disregard for the health of its own employees,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report. “Ultimately, the health care industry bears responsibility for this problem. In the meantime, legislators and regulators should exercise the full extent of their public protection mandate to help health care executives see the light.”

In contrast with organizations representing health care employers, those charged with representing health care workers support new standards to protect caregivers from patient handling injuries. The American Nurses Association, which represents registered nurses, has issued a blanket policy statement in support of “actions and policies that result in the elimination of manual patient handling” and endorses legislation introduced in recent sessions of Congress to require the use of technology to assist caregivers in moving patients.

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Administrator David Michaels has called for a law to better protect health care workers. Last year, Michaels sent hospital administrators a letter informing them that hospitals are among “the most hazardous places to work in America,” and encouraging them to take voluntary steps to better protect their workers. Last month, OSHA issued a memo listing musculoskeletal disorders from manual patient handling as a new point of emphasis for occupational safety inspectors.

In 2000, OSHA issued a regulation requiring employers to implement programs to combat work-related musculoskeletal disorders, but Congress repealed it the following year. Without a rule, OSHA is severely limited in its ability to protect health care workers.

This report is the fifth and final report in a five-part series on safe patient handling. Read the report (PDF).