Hospital workers and the dangers they face in the workplace

Hospital staff in New York face a number of hazards in the workplace that could result in occupational injuries or illnesses, requiring a workers' compensation claim.

Hospitals throughout New York are operated and staffed by many types of workers, including doctors, nurses, technicians, administrative employees and janitors. Many people assume that working in health care facilities, these employees work in one of the safest workplaces.

However, this is not necessarily true. In fact, the injury rate for hospital workers is nearly two times the rate for the entire private industry, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In this article, we discuss some of the most common workplace injuries for health care workers and some of the steps that you should take in the event that you suffer one of these injuries.

Common workplace dangers

In large part, the increased risk for hospital staff of suffering work-related injuries or illnesses is due to the nature of their work and the workplaces themselves. While performing their regular job duties, hospital employees may be exposed to numerous hazards. Some of the most common dangers include the following:

  • Exposure to chemicals, contagions, infections or radiation

  • Injury due to a fall, slip or trip

  • Assault by an upset family member or combative patient

  • Bumping into or getting struck by work-related objects or equipment

Additionally, some hospital workers may be required to reposition, lift, transfer and push patients. In some cases, these patients may be unable to move on their own or help support themselves. A report by NPR points out that the methods many hospitals teach their workers for moving patients are dangerous and could result in serious injuries. Furthermore, it is common for hospital staff to feel a sense of responsibility to put their patients' needs and safety ahead of their own.

Musculoskeletal injuries extremely common for health care workers

In addition to the common hazards that are found in hospitals, there are a number of injuries that we see medical professionals suffer time and time again. In many of these cases, workers are suffering from musculoskeletal injuries, which include injuries to the back, shoulder and neck.

In 2010, the health care industry had one of the highest injury and illness rates of any industry. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nursing aides, orderlies and attendants suffered more musculoskeletal injuries than any other professionals. Injuries that occur when these workers are lifting patients may be especially common. Unfortunately, reports indicate that many health care employers fail to mitigate this threat.

Inadequate preventative measures

National Public Radio recently reported that musculoskeletal injuries remain a risk even when nursing professionals use employer-endorsed lifting techniques. This is due to the following factors:

  • Some patients are too heavy to lift, even with safe techniques. This problem has become more prevalent as obesity rates have increased in the U.S.
  • Nurses often stand to the side of the hospital bed when lifting patients. This is a relatively large distance to lift over. The associated strain would be less if nurses could perform lifts while standing closer to patients.
  • Nurses frequently must bend to lift patients. This positioning increases forces on spinal disks. In contrast, lifting from a straight position places force on spinal joints that are designed to withstand this force.

Even group lifts may put health care professionals at risk. Since weight is never distributed perfectly in a group lift, these maneuvers can introduce unusual stresses. In some cases, professionals even face a greater risk of injury when performing group lifts. Overall, experts note that the only safe way nurses can lift patients is with the use of machinery. Unfortunately, due to budget issues, many hospitals lack this equipment.

What happens if you are injured while working in a hospital?

Health care professionals may suffer from injuries that occur suddenly or due to repetitive stress. Many back injuries may occur gradually, as damage near the spinal disks results in scarring, nutrient loss and eventual disk collapse. Either way, these injuries often necessitate medical attention, time off from work and even invasive treatments, such as surgery. Fortunately, workers who suffer from these injuries may qualify for workers' compensation benefits.

In New York, an injury that occurs in the course of a worker's job duties is considered work-related. The fault of the worker or employer has no effect on a workers' compensation claim. A work-related injury may be compensable if it is not intentionally self-inflicted or drug-related. Given these criteria, the injuries that health care workers suffer may qualify for benefits.

The difficulty in getting your claim for benefits approved

Unfortunately, proving that an injury is work-related may be challenging for health care employees. NPR cites the story of one nurse who injured her back lifting a patient. She hurt her back two more times within a two-week period and eventually required surgery. The woman's employer's medical staff found that the injury was work-related. However, the employer refused to provide compensation for the nurse's medical expenses or lost wages.

Given these potential challenges in securing compensation, health care workers facing work-related injuries may benefit from seeking legal assistance. A workers' compensation attorney may be able to help a worker understand his or her rights during the claim process. An attorney also may be able to assist an injured worker in properly documenting his or her claim.

Your attorney can explain the various requirements of the workers' compensation system and work together with you to help you present a comprehensive claim for benefits. When issues arise, your attorney can take action to keep your case moving.

Because it can be so difficult to obtain benefits, in some circumstances, your claim may be denied even though it is valid. This means that you will need to appeal this decision in order to get the benefits that you need to pay for care that you have received, as well as any care that you may need in the future.

An attorney will be able to present you with your options and help you determine the appropriate measures to take at each step in the process. Going through this alone could have a very negative impact upon your ability to receive a positive result in your case.