Occupational health and safety for healthcare sector

Occupational health and safety for healthcare sector

Hospitals and other medical facilities have occupational hazards similar and risks that are unique to the healthcare environment. COVID-19 has emphasized on the importance of emergency response strategies, building capacity in healthcare systems and most importantly, the role of health professionals in managing this dreaded viral infection.

The public health emergency has placed all functions under scrutiny and the procedures to control and mitigate risks and hazards have gathered pace. As healthcare extends into community and home environments, hazards and risks to healthcare workers increase manifold.

While their sole purpose lies in improving, protecting and developing the health of the community and individuals within, they might personally experience health problems ranging from infectious diseases to radiation-related cancers etc.

Fig. 1 Hazards in the healthcare sector

Arduous tasks are inherent in healthcare jobs – lifting and transferring ill or unconscious patients, attending to patients who carry pathogens or underlying medical conditions which may be contagious, responding to emergency situations such as cardiac arrests and dealing with the victims of community disasters (earthquakes, fires, crashes) and pandemics (currently COVID-19). They are also at a far greater risk of psychosocial stressors and face challenging situations like dealing with unruly patients or even verbal abuse.

Constant demands of their time, energy, and professional skills, along with the extreme stress of direct responsibility of patient care, exposure to morbidity anxious and suicidal patients (that may be intensified by hectic work patterns that do not allow for breaks), put them at high risk.

All of this requires a good amount of physical and psychological resilience as they are the frontline workers who continuously deal with such circumstances.

Their health and safety needs are to be monitored with extreme caution and proper teamwork between an occupational health professional and health care management is key to establish and create an environment with controls in place to protect health care workers.

They should have access to basic services such as –

  • Knowledge and implementation of safe work practices about the identified hazards.
  • Health evaluation and proper counselling
  • Stress management techniques
  • Adequate and safe PPEs that ensure their well-being

Other health and safety precautions that need to be looked into, by the healthcare facility employer are –

  • Working collaboratively with other disciplines (risk management, infection control, and radiology, occupational medicine) to establish and implement occupational health and safety policies and procedures.
  • Developing and maintaining a hospital’s hazard abatement program along with OHS programs and services.
  • Participation in various workplace committees to provide health expertise and ensure that operating procedures afford the greatest employee and patient protection during implementation (e.g. the use of lead aprons by radiology staff during radiography, hand washing by staff between patient contacts and maintaining hygiene).
  • Fulfilling requirements for facilities that include drinking water, toilets, seating, washing, changing and eating facilities, first aid, PPEs (from head to toe), training, monitoring and emergency planning.
  • Directing and administering compliance programs, including exposure to blood borne pathogens, TB, and documentation of occupational injuries and illnesses.
  • Identifying health problems and appropriate nursing interventions – applying health care cost containment measures to preserve the health and well-being of the professionals.
  • Preventing injury and illness through health promotion education programs geared to the hospital or health care worker.
  • Identifying real and potential hazards in the worker’s environment by conducting facility assessments and following appropriate discipline.
  • Acting as a liaison between a worker, hospital, community, and professional resources to facilitate the lines of communication and cooperation.
  • Providing crisis intervention in times of need.

Healthcare workers contribute to the quality of healthcare that is delivered to us – so it is a must that their safety and security is taken care of.

The current situation has made us realize that while it’s comparatively easy for us to sit and home and fight with the pandemic, this journey is tough and life-threatening for our healthcare professionals. Besides the above precautionary measures, they require our continuous support, motivation and a little care that enlivens their spirit to overcome their existing challenges.

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