As the fastest growing sector in the United States, healthcare employs over 18 million workers — 80 percent of whom are women. Each day, allied health professionals working in a variety of specialties encounter several serious safety and health hazards. Shockingly, illness and nonfatal injuries are the highest among U.S. allied healthcare workers! Whether you travel across the country for each assignment or pick up work locally, avoiding workplace hazards in allied health is all about awareness. Here we’ll discuss some of the most common hazards and ways you can avoid them!
Just how many healthcare workers are injured or sick in the workplace?
In general, allied health professionals and healthcare workers have a higher injury and illness rate than any other sector. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every one in five nonfatal occupational injuries reported occur among healthcare professionals. In 2013, 66,910 cases of occupational musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) occurred among social assistance and allied health workers. Additionally, people working in medical equipment maintenance, building and grounds maintenance, food service and housekeeping have also reported nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the healthcare workplace. Clearly, avoiding workplace hazards in allied health extends to many others in the same professional arena!
Though it’s impossible to eliminate all the risks associated with healthcare, avoiding workplace hazards in allied health is a good starting point.
1. Employ Proper Procedures for Blood Borne Pathogens
It’s no secret that healthcare is a world where coming in contact with body fluids is quite common. In most cases, professionals don’t have a choice — sometimes things just get messy. However, this doesn’t mean that they can just shrug off the risk of infection. Avoiding workplace hazards in allied health comes down to dealing with each risk thoroughly — especially blood borne pathogens.
For those starting a new allied health assignment, it’s critical to learn where personal protective equipment is stored and how it can be accessed at all times. This includes things like gowns, gloves, safety goggles, and face shields to keep bodily fluids off of a worker’s skin. Beyond personal safety, dealing with the disposal of contaminated equipment and tools is also extremely important. Some main ways professionals are avoiding workplace hazards in allied health include:
- Sanitizing non-disposable tools and instruments
- Using antiseptics on skin prior to setting up I.V.s or performing surgery
- Practicing good hand hygiene in general
2. Use Lift and Transfer Equipment
Avoiding workplace hazards in allied health also means using lift and transfer equipment when appropriate. Medical professionals required to help patients move between beds and wheelchairs are often at risk of sustaining musculoskeletal injuries. Any injury to one’s bones, muscles, ligaments, and joints make treating others particularly difficult.
In order for allied health professionals to protect themselves against musculoskeletal disorders and injuries, using assistive devices is recommended and often required. These devices can include:
- Slip Sheets
- Electronic Hoists
- Transfer Benches
For elderly or immobile patients, knowledge of utilizing these devices is critical. Using lift and transfer equipment ensures each patient is transferred safety, but also that you avoid personal injuries on the job!
3. Be Mindful of Sharps Injuries
Scalpels, needles, and other sharp surgical objects have a high potential for contamination and accidental injury. As a necessary part of innumerable procedures, allied health workers need to remain mindful of avoiding accidental sharps injuries. Just one stick of a needle can be enough to transfer an infectious disease from patient to worker. Today, many U.S. hospitals and medical facilities have reduced needle usage and employed alternate methods through hand-free techniques. Still, reducing or eliminating the risk of sharps injuries is done by:
- Disposing syringes at point of use in a safety box
- No recapping of needles
- Using blunt suture needles
- Using scalpel blades with rounded tips
- Passing sharp objects in basins
- Wearing disposable gloves
While allied health workers face many more unique hazards, these are the most common sources of injury. Consider facility procedures for events like fires, natural disasters, or violence and learn how to deal with these situations. Overall, it's important to get a handle on each of these ways to avoid workplace hazards as a team!
How do you avoid workplace hazards in allied health? Any particular situations come to mind? Share your thoughts in the comments below!