What are the most common safety hazards health care workers face?

Health care workers face a variety of safety hazards, such as chemical exposures, biological hazards and musculoskeletal injuries, while on the job.

The health care industry offers medical services as a way to preserve and improve a person's mental or physical health. Even though this job entails making a patient feel better, many health care providers in Philadelphia are at risk for safety hazards. Some of the most common safety hazards faced by those in the health care industry include chemical exposures, biological hazards and musculoskeletal injuries.

Chemical exposures

In any industry, chemical exposures may include cleaning products, asbestos or pesticides. People in the health care industry may find themselves exposed to cleaning products, but most often this hazard will come in the form of drugs and medicinal chemicals. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, health care workers could be exposed to glutaraldehyde, formaldehyde, paracetic acid and medications, such as antiviral drugs, immunosuppressant drugs, chemotherapy and hormones.

A health care worker may come into contact with a dangerous chemical or drug through injection, skin absorption, inhalation or ingestion. The drugs or chemicals may cause cancer, reproductive system damage, internal organ damage or birth defects.

Biological hazards

Biological hazards are often thought of as communicable diseases, mold, mildew and the like, but in the health care industry this hazard may also include bloodborne pathogens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, any type of contact with blood and other bodily fluids and secretions, besides sweat, could put health care workers in dentistry at risk for human immunodeficiency virus and hepatitis C or B viruses. Exposure to this type of pathogen may come through an accidental needlestick.

These types of hazards can be reduced through the use of:

  • Engineered controls, such as needle disposal containers, self-sheathing needles or other technology-based changes to medical equipment
  • Personal protective gear, such as masks, gloves, eye wear and medical gowns
  • On-the-job training, such as changing the way workers perform certain tasks

The outcome of this type of hazard will vary based on what type of biological fluid the worker was exposed to and how the exposure came about.

Musculoskeletal injuries

Musculoskeletal injuries often result from sitting awkwardly, lifting heavy objects and repetitive movement. Health care workers are expected to reposition patients as a part of their day-to-day responsibilities. This manual lifting and patient handling, according to the CDC, is the greatest risk factor for musculoskeletal overexertion in the health care industry. Many health care facilities work to reduce this risk by introducing assistive equipment, but some health care specialists cannot take the time to use the machinery.

A health care worker in Pennsylvania may face a variety of safety hazards on a daily basis. Meeting with a knowledgeable attorney if injuries take place while on the job can help workers understand what their options are.