NIOSH highlights common exposures
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected home healthcare work to be the fastest growing occupation through 2016. Home healthcare workers, including home healthcare aides, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, therapy aides, social workers and hospice care workers, face unique hazards delivering services in patients’ homes and in various diverse communities. Home healthcare workers, while contributing greatly to the well-being of others, face unique risks on the job to their own personal safety and health. During 2007 alone, 27,400 recorded injuries occurred among more than 896,800 home healthcare workers.
Risk exposures include:
Environment. Home healthcare workers face an unprotected and unpredictable environment each time they enter the patient’s community and home. According to estimates of the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) [BLS 2007a], 330 nonfatal assaults on home healthcare workers occurred in 2006—a rate of 5.5 per 10,000 full-time workers, more than twice the rate for all U.S. workers.
Injury. Home healthcare workers are susceptible to injuries. These may result from overexertion due to transferring patients into and out of bed or to assisting with patient walking or standing. Compared with other workers, home healthcare workers take more frequent sick leave as a result of work-related musculoskeletal symptoms.
Travel. The large amount of driving from home to home exposes the home healthcare worker to risks of vehicular injury or fatality. The 2007 incidence rate for lost workdays from injuries caused by transportation incidents was more than 10 times higher for home healthcare workers than for hospital workers and more than 3 times higher than that of general industry workers.
Other hazards. Home healthcare workers may be exposed to blood borne pathogens, needle sticks, infectious agents, latex, stress, violence occurring in the home or street, verbal abuse, weapons, illegal drugs, and they may encounter animals, temperature extremes, unsanitary conditions in the homes, lack of water, severe weather, or a response to a chemical spill or act of terrorism.
It is important to note that the foundation of any good safety program is a strong management commitment to the safety program. A safety committee should be formed and members should represent the cross-section of employees.
Employees should have a means of discussing their safety concerns and management should have a means of providing information on the company safety plans and policies. Safety training should be part of initial and on-going annual training.
Adapted from: Occupational Hazards in Home Healthcare, a publication of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which aims to raise awareness and increase understanding of the safety and health risks involved in home healthcare, and suggests prevention strategies to reduce the number of injuries, illnesses and fatalities that too frequently occur among workers in this industry.