Why America’s Healthcare Workers Are in Danger

Why America’s Healthcare Workers Are in Danger While it may not seem dangerous to those outside of the profession, healthcare work is hazardous to workers’ health and well-being. The healthcare industry is a dangerous occupation, from needlestick punctures to debilitating back injuries from heavy lifting to close encounters with contagious diseases like tuberculosis.

The number of workers that are imperiled is enormous: according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), healthcare is the fastest-growing sector of the American economy, with more than 18 million workers active in the field. And that’s a lot of people at risk.

What dangers do medical personnel face?

The hazards facing healthcare workers vary from job to job, but there are some overall trends. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the most common causes of hospital worker injuries that result in time off work are overexertion or “bodily reaction,” which includes motions such as lifting, bending, and reaching.

Let’s take a look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ percentages of hospital worker injuries by cause:

  • Overexertion or bodily reaction: 48%
  • Slips, trips, and falls (STFs): 25%
  • Contact with objects: 13%
  • Violence: 9%
  • Exposure to substances: 4%
  • All other causes: 1%

The “all other causes” bucket includes events such as bruises, burns and scalds, soreness, fractures, multiple traumas, and cuts and punctures.

Of all healthcare workers, 4.2 million (23%) are registered nurses (RNs), making them the largest group in the industry. So does that make nursing the most dangerous job in healthcare?

Yes, being a nurse is dangerous

Since nurses are often on the front lines of healthcare, they are in the most dangerous profession of all. Being a nurse is even more dangerous than being a police officer.

More specifically, the 10 most dangerous nursing jobs are in:

  1. The emergency room (ER),
  2. Prisons and other correctional facilities,
  3. Psychiatric facilities,
  4. Critical care units,
  5. Ambulatory care units,
  6. Oncology departments,
  7. Radiology departments,
  8. Infectious disease departments and clinics,
  9. Medical helicopters, and
  10. The community and public sector (think: nonprofit organizations, schools, and outpatient clinics).

One of the risks of being a nurse is the physicality of the job. Nurses have to lift patients, reposition them, and help them sit or lay back down—those so-called bodily reactions that help make up the bulk of all injuries.

A caregiver’s spine is in the most vulnerable position when they are bending over to lift a heavy burden, without even the benefit of being able to bend their knees before lifting. America’s obesity problem only worsens the burden on healthcare workers, and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the most significant dangers nurses face every day from lifting and overexertion.

Per OSHA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines MSDs as:

…cases where the nature of the injury or illness is a pinched nerve; herniated disc; meniscus tear; sprains/strains/tears; hernia (traumatic and nontraumatic); pain, swelling, and numbness; carpal or tarsal tunnel syndrome; Raynaud’s syndrome or phenomenon; musculoskeletal system and connective tissue diseases and disorders when the event or exposure leading to the injury or illness is overexertion and bodily reaction—unspecified; overexertion involving outside sources; repetitive motion involving microtasks; other and multiple exertions or bodily reactions; and rubbed, abraded, or jarred by vibration.

The arms, upper body, and back are among the most likely areas for musculoskeletal injuries.

Additionally, caregivers often perform their duties in small or cramped quarters such as slippery, tiled bathrooms or patient rooms full of bulky equipment. Nurses are at risk of slips, trips, and/or falls under these conditions.

Which healthcare jobs are the most risky?

Nursing may be the most dangerous, but it’s not only nurses who face threats in the medical profession.

In fact, dentists are the number one job at risk for infection, even more so than nurses, general practitioners, emergency medical services (EMS) workers and paramedics, anesthesiologists, and surgeons, though these professions all make the top 10 as well.

First responders and paramedics can be seriously injured in ambulance crashes or other vehicular incidents. In 2020, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recorded 16,900 nonfatal injuries of EMS responders, of which 4,100 (24%) were vehicular incidents.

A spontaneous 2022 ambulance fire attributed to an oxygen device left one worker critically injured and the patient dead. However, other injuries are more typical among emergency medical technicians.

Sprains and strains from overexertion were, again, the most common injuries, followed by contusions and abrasions. And hands, fingers, and the upper torso were the most frequently injured body parts among emergency workers.  

Statistics from OSHA mark hospitals as one of the most dangerous places to work, with injury rates double that of the private industry overall—and three times the rate for white-collar jobs.

Violence against healthcare workers

Another one of the biggest threats to healthcare workers is workplace violence, as alluded to by the BLS numbers on injury by cause. Women make up almost 80% of the healthcare workforce, and healthcare workers are four times more likely than private industry workers to be victims of physical and verbal violence.

Violence is also the second most frequent injury event for EMS workers.

OSHA is supposed to “assure safe and healthful working conditions by setting and enforcing standards.” Yet, it has never put an actual workplace violence prevention plan in place, leaving healthcare workers in harm’s way. Adding to the confusion is that workers often don’t hold patients responsible for their actions due to immediate mental or medical issues (as well as the “do no harm” code that healthcare workers honor). In fact, only 26% of emergency room physicians and 30% of nurses report incidents of workplace violence.

The injuries healthcare workers sustain during abusive attacks can range from mental trauma to bodily lacerations and more. “I’ve been bitten, kicked, punched, pushed, pinched, shoved, scratched, and spat upon,” reported Lisa Tenney, an RN with the Maryland Emergency Nurses Association. “I have been bullied and called very ugly names. I’ve had my life, the life of my unborn child, and of my other family members threatened, requiring security escort to my car.”

Medical care workers even run the risk of being shot and killed by aggressive patients.

Fortunately, the industry is taking steps to address workplace violence (such as bringing in de-escalation teams and updating patient and visitor screening technology). But providing medical care is still a risky business.

Workers’ compensation claims for nurses and medical professionals in Harrisburg, PA

If you are employed as a nurse or medical professional, you can seek compensation for your lost wages and medical expenses through Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation system. This no-fault system is designed to help injured employees while they recover.

However, not all medical workers are considered employees. Direct care workers, for example, may be classified as contractors, and therefore ineligible. (Volunteers, however, are eligible.) And there is always a chance that the insurance company for the hospital, practice, clinic, or other facility may deny your claim. KBG Injury Law understands that being injured takes a toll on your physical as well as your mental health. One of our Harrisburg workers’ compensation attorneys can help through the process of claiming your benefits, and explain your legal options if you are ineligible.

It can be difficult to navigate the legal system. It’s even more of a headache when you’re dealing with health-related complications. Call KBG Injury Law in Harrisburg, PA, and let our lawyers take care of your workers’ compensation claim.

Or feel free to tell us more about your injury on our private contact form. Our team is looking forward to helping you through the legal process and getting you the workers’ compensation you so rightly deserve.