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New OSHA Pamphlet Suggests Hospitals More Dangerous Than You Think

February 5, 2014

A new pamphlet published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) called “How Safe Is Your Hospital for Workers?” includes some startling facts about the dangers that hospitals present not only to patients, but to their employees as well. For example, in terms of time lost due to illness and injury, hospital jobs (with over 157 days of missed work out of 100,000) outrank both jobs in construction (147 missed days) and manufacturing (111 missed days). The pamphlet reads, “This is almost twice the rate for private industry as a whole.” Obviously, any injuries to workers is harmful to the productivity and efficiency of an organization, but the pamphlet argues persuasively something that might not be evident from a simple reading of these facts: hospital workplace safety affects patient care.

The authors of this OSHA pamphlet point out that nearly half of the injuries that lead to days away from work “are caused by overexertion or bodily reaction, which includes motions such as lifting, bending, or reaching. These motions often relate to patient handling.” What this may mean is that as hospital employees are fatigued and even injured, they become less able to do their job, which often includes physically moving patients, who are then at risk for “falls, fractures, bruises, and skin tears.” The author goes on to claim that “[c]aregiver fatigue, injury, and stress are tied to a higher risk of medication errors and patient infections” due not only to physical but also mental overexertion. This may lead to “productivity and morale decrease as employees become physically and emotionally fatigued.”

The pamphlet also lays out other ways in which hospitals suffer when an employee is hurt on the job. In cases like this, hospitals have to fill gaps by paying their other employees overtime and risking their safety as well. If administrators have to hire new workers, they must also be recruited and trained; this turnover includes a large investment of both time and money for new employees. Even more frustrating from a health care spending perspective is that workers’ compensation covers “lost wages and medical costs.” The pamphlet claims, “The average hospital experiences $0.78 in workers’ compensation losses for every $100 of payroll. Nationwide, that is a total annual expense of $2 billion.”

The consumer activist and pro-civil justice blog ThePopTort.com, in a post about this pamphlet, extrapolates these claims and suggests that perhaps these unsafe working conditions are at least one of the reasons why “medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in America ” (responsible for at least 210,000 deaths every year). The author of this post also asserts that these dangerous conditions “have been made safer only after the families of sick and injured patients filed lawsuits against those responsible.”

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